By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia’s seed in next week’s ACC men’s basketball tournament — No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 — will not be determined until about 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
About this, though, there is no uncertainty: UVA seniors Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Caid Kirven, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey will bask in the thunderous applause of fans at John Paul Jones Arena as tipoff approaches Saturday.
At 8:30 p.m., in a game ESPN will televise, fourth-ranked Virginia (23-6 overall, 12-5 ACC) meets No. 11 Louisville (23-7, 12-5) at sold-out JPJ.
The Senior Night ceremony, during which student-managers Bryn Blanks, Austin Diduch and Kevin Oberlies also will be recognized, is scheduled to start around 8:15 p.m.
“It will be very special,” Brogdon said after practice Thursday night. “I know people are going to look at it as a night for the seniors to be thanked for all they did, but really it’s me and my fellow seniors thanking the University and the city for supporting us.”
The fans, Brogdon said, have “been here through thick and thin. When the program wasn’t at the height it’s at now, they were here. And now they’re still here supporting us, cheering us on. Even at the low point of this season, they’ve always been strong for us, and we couldn’t have gotten this far without them.”
Brogdon and Gill are fifth-year seniors who began college in 2011. Nolte, Tobey and Kirven enrolled at the University in 2012.
Gill, a 6-8 forward from High Point, N.C., transferred from South Carolina to Virginia after his freshman season. Brogdon, a 6-5 guard from Atlanta, has been in Charlottesville all five years, and he’s the last link among the players to the start of head coach Tony Bennett’s tenure.
As a freshman in 2011-12, Brogdon was the sixth man on a team led by fifth-year seniors Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski, both of whom preceded Bennett at UVA. (Bennett took over in the spring of 2009.)
“It’s been a long time,” Brogdon said, smiling.
For Bennett, it’s passed quickly. He reminisced Thursday night about the trip Virginia took to Europe in August 2012. Nolte, Tobey and Kirven had been at UVA for all of two months when the team flew to Amsterdam.
“It seems like we were just going on a foreign tour with that group of first-years,” Bennett said, “and now we’re ushering them off with the last home game of their [UVA] careers.
“That puts it into perspective. That’s gone pretty quick.”
In a Hollywood script, the seniors would all play leading roles in a Virginia victory Saturday, and Bennett hopes that happens. Still, he said, one game will not define the class’ legacy at UVA.
“They have made contributions already,” Bennett said, “their whole careers. Of course, you’d love to see them in their last home game all contribute, but they’ve contributed already. That’s the way I look at it.”
After Saturday’s regular-season finale, the Wahoos could play as many as nine more games or as few as two this season. Their first game in the ACC tournament will be Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. However the postseason unfolds for the `Hoos, Brogdon already has stamped himself as one of the greatest players in program history.
With 1,670 career points, he ranks No. 13 all-time at UVA, and Brogdon may well crack the top 10 before he’s through. This season, he leads the `Hoos in scoring, 3-pointers made and free-throw percentage, and he’s second in rebounds, assists and steals.
A second-team All-American in 2014-15, Brogdon has elevated his play this season, no small feat.
“He’s improved every aspect of his game: leadership, shooting, decision-making, defense,” Bennett said. “You don’t usually see those big jumps from a senior.”
Brogdon struggled in Virginia’s Jan. 17 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee, missing 13 of 17 shots from the floor. Since then, however, he’s played as well as anyone in college basketball, and the Cavaliers have won 10 of 12 games, with the losses by a combined four points.
“He’s always been steady and has a calm demeanor,” Bennett said. “But he’s aggressive by nature, and you don’t want to take that away. But where I think he’s improved is he is letting the game come, scoring out of the system, and then sensing at times when there needs to be some creation.”
It’s important for players “to be aggressive, but not force,” Bennett said. “You want to be sound, but not passive or hesitant. And I think that Malcolm, pretty much from Florida State on, he’s been in that sweet spot of letting the game come, but still being assertive, which we need. And I definitely think he’s improved that, and I think the efficiency in his game has shown in his numbers.”
To watch Brogdon in practice Thursday night was to see a singularly focused player. He attacked every drill with palpable intensity. That’s partly because, Brogdon said later, he’s determined to make the most of his remaining practices with the Cavaliers.
“I also think it’s a case of a senior that’s learned from the past and doesn’t want to make the same mistakes as a team, as a whole,” Brogdon said, “and as a leader on this team I’ve got to make sure we’re locked in every game. I’ve got to make sure there’s focus every day, and me being focused is the way I know how to do it.”
The `Hoos are headed to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in his five seasons. His freshman year, with Brogdon sidelined by a foot injury that would keep him out in 2012-13 too, Virginia lost to Florida in the NCAA tourney’s round of 64.
In 2013-14, UVA lost to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2014-15, the Spartans ousted the Cavaliers again, this time in the round of 32.
The past two Virginia teams, Brogdon said, did not practice poorly late in the season, “but I think we lacked a sense of urgency. I think that’s different this year. I think we have a sense of urgency. I think we know what we’re getting ourselves into in the postseason, and I think we’re going to be ready.”
With a rotation that includes two fifth-year seniors (Brogdon and Gill), two seniors (Tobey and Nolte), a junior (London Perrantes), two redshirt sophomores (Devon Hall and Darius Thompson), and two sophomores (Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok), Virginia is one of the nation’s most experienced teams.
That figures to serve UVA well in the posteason. So should the lessons the Cavaliers learned in January during a humbling stretch in which they lost three of four ACC games.
“Because we’ve had some losses and suffered a bit,” Bennett said, “we realize how close we are to that line, and we’ve got to be good every time out.”
The season finale at JPJ promises to be a compelling game. Not only will the Virginia seniors be bowing out, the Cardinals be playing for the last time this season. Louisville, which is under NCAA investigation for an alleged recruiting scandal, announced last month that it was self-imposing a postseason ban for 2015-16.
So this is it for the Cards, who would love to avenge the loss they suffered to Virginia in Louisville on Jan. 30. Win or lose Saturday, the Cavaliers know their season will continue. Still, they’d love to extend their winning streak at JPJ to 20 games.
For the seniors, one last victory at home “would be awesome,” Brogdon said. “It would be the way I want to go out. It’s that simple.”
SEEDING SCENARIOS: For ACC teams, the regular season ends Saturday. The schedule: NC State at Notre Dame, noon, CBS; Clemson at Boston College, noon, RSN; Syracuse at Florida State, 2 p.m., ESPN2; Pitt at Georgia Tech, 2 p.m, ACC Network.; Miami at Virginia Tech, 4 p.m., ACC Network; North Carolina at Duke, 6:30 p.m, ESPN.; and Louisville at Virginia, 8:30 p.m., ESPN.
As one of the top four seeds in the ACC tournament, Virginia will receive a double bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals. Courtesy of bracketologist Patrick Stevens, here are the seeding possibilities for UVA in the tourney, which starts Tuesday in Washington, D.C.:
* If Virginia wins, Miami loses and UNC loses on Saturday, UVA gets the No. 1 seed.
* If Virginia wins, Miami loses and UNC wins, UVA gets the No. 2 seed.
* If Virginia wins, Miami wins and UNC loses, UVA gets the No. 2 seed.
* If Virginia wins, Miami wins and UNC wins, UVA gets the No. 3 seed.
* If Virginia loses and Duke loses, UVA gets the No. 3 seed.
* If Virginia loses and Duke wins, UVA gets the No. 4 seed.