'Hoos Taking Nothing for Granted in Raleigh
March 16, 2016
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RALEIGH, N.C. — As a capacity crowd looked on — the orange-clad fans in various states of disbelief — Virginia found itself tied 47-47 with Coastal Carolina with less than nine minutes remaining in their East Region game at PNC Arena.
It was March 21, 2014, and UVA was in danger of becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“Sometimes that does creep into your head, if you’re honest,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said afterward.
The Cavaliers averted disaster that night, pulling away for a 70-59 victory, only to find themselves in a similar situation last year in Charlotte. The East Region’s No. 2 seed in the East Region, Virginia saw its lead cut to two on a 3-pointer with 4:35 remaining by guard Craig Bradshaw of No. 15 seed Belmont.
Once again, the Wahoos steadied themselves, this time grinding out a 79-67 victory. But memories of those escapes have not faded as Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, prepares for another NCAA tournament.
“It was definitely a little bit scary,” senior center Mike Tobey recalled Wednesday, “but it helps remind this team not to take anybody for granted.”
For the second time in three seasons, UVA is a No. 1 seed, this time in the Midwest Region. Virginia’s first-round opponent Thursday is No. 16 seed Hampton, which has won back-to-back Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles.
In a game to be broadcast by truTV, the Cavaliers (26-7) will meet the Pirates (21-10) around 3 p.m. at PNC Arena. Nos. 1 remain perfect against Nos. 16 in the NCAA tournament — “That’s a crazy stat,” Virginia big man Anthony Gill said — but neither team expects seeding to influence the outcome Thursday.
“I feel this year anybody can be upset, honestly,” said 6-6 guard Quinton Chievous, a graduate student who transferred to Hampton from Tennessee, where his teammates in 2013-14 included Darius Thompson, now a reserve guard at UVA.
Bennett said: “You’ve got to play … Just because we’re a higher seed and they are a lower seed, throw that stuff out. All the seeding is, it’s a reward for us having a really good season.”
Indeed, if the past two NCAA tournaments have taught the `Hoos anything, it’s that seedings and rankings mean little this time of year.
“That’s why it’s March Madness,” Tobey said.
In 2014, after winning two games in Raleigh, the Cavaliers lost to fourth-seeded Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2015, Virginia lost in the round of 32 to the Spartans, who were seeded No. 7 in the East.
“Having another year under our belt, we’ve learned quickly that you don’t care about what you seed you are, because it doesn’t matter,” said senior forward Evan Nolte, one of the heroes of UVA’s win over Coastal Carolina in 2014.
“I think we’re just ready to get down to business and get the tournament started off right.”
Virginia and Hampton haven’t met since Nov. 26, 2013. The Cavaliers won 69-40 that night at John Paul Jones Arena to stretch their series lead to 7-0. But the Pirates are conceding nothing in Raleigh.
This is their second straight trip to the NCAAs, and they beat Manhattan in the First Four last season before losing to Kentucky. The Pirates will be at a severe height disadvantage Thursday — their tallest starter is 6-7 — but their regulars include three seniors, a graduate student and a redshirt junior.
“This isn’t new to them,” Bennett said.
“Statistically speaking, they’re averaging around almost 90 possessions a game. That’s impressive. They get up and down the floor fast, and even when you’re back and set, they have shot-makers.”
Three players are averaging at least 13 points per game for the Pirates: 6-2 senior Reginald Johnson (18.3), the 6-6 Chievous (17.0), and 6-2 senior Brian Darden (13.2). Chievous also averages 11 rebounds.
“I know for sure that Hampton is a good team,” said UVA guard Devon Hall, who played AAU ball with Darden. “They can shoot it and they can play. So it’s a matter of us not taking any team lightly, regardless of who they are.”
Brogdon, a 6-5 fifth-year senior, leads the Cavaliers. A first-team All-America, he’s also the ACC’s overall player of the year and defensive player of the year.
“We’re going to try to do a few things [against Brogdon] and say a few prayers that maybe he’s just off,” Hampton head coach Edward “Buck” Joyner Jr. said. “And if that’s the case, that’s another reason that you could have a chance.”
Joyner said he’s talked to his team about historical implications of a Hampton win over UVA.
“We’ve embraced it,” Joyner said. “We talked about the feeling that we could have if we’re able to do it. We also talked about [how] it’s easier said than done. You have to go out there and you have to be able to perform, because Virginia’s going to perform.”
The Cavaliers are a formidable opponent, Joyner acknowledged. Still, he said, at “the end of the day if you want to make history you’ve got to put yourself in position to do so, and we’ve earned our way to do that. So tomorrow we’re going come out and fight as hard as we can, and let the chips fall where they may from there.”
Virginia held an open practice at PNC Arena on Wednesday after locker-room interviews and press conferences in which three players (Brogdon, Gill and junior point guard London Perrantes) and then Bennett fielded questions from media members.
Five of the upperclassmen on this team — Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte and Perrantes — played key roles for UVA in its 2014 wins over Coastal Carolina and Memphis at PNC Arena, and they clearly enjoyed being back.
“Definitely a lot of good memories in this arena,” Tobey said.
Against Coastal, Nolte hit two 3-pointers and a pull-up jumper in the final 7:50 to help the Cavaliers avoid a monumental upset.
“That was a good memory for me,” Nolte said Wednesday, “but you gotta win the next one.”