By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The latest Associated Press rankings for men’s college basketball reflect the collective strength of the ACC. Duke is No. 5, Louisville is No. 6, North Carolina is No. 9, Virginia is No. 12, Florida State is No. 20, and Notre Dame is No. 24.
Three of those teams lost Saturday: Duke to Virginia Tech, which is a lock to be ranked next week; North Carolina, last season’s NCAA runner-up, to unheralded Georgia Tech; and Virginia to Florida State.
And there are other formidable teams in the league. Pittsburgh is 11-3 overall after losing in overtime to Notre Dame on a late 3-pointer, and two other ACC teams, Clemson and Miami, are each 11-2 after posting victories Saturday.
The ACC appears as deep and talented as it’s been in his four seasons, UVA point guard London Perrantes said. Because of the league’s strength, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, his team has little margin for error in ACC play.
Bennett told his players as much in the locker room after UVA lost 60-58 on a 3-pointer by FSU sophomore Dwayne Bacon with two seconds remaining Saturday afternoon before 14,623 at John Paul Jones Arena.
“I said, `Welcome to the ACC. If you aren’t right and you aren’t executing all of the way through, you will not be successful,’ ” Bennett told reporters.
On an afternoon when Bacon, a 6-7, 221-pound sophomore, turned in a tour de force, the Cavaliers (11-2, 1-1) were far from flawless against the Seminoles (14-1, 2-0).
Virginia turned the ball over 13 times, with several of those errors unforced, and failed to corral a critical defensive rebound with three minutes remaining, a lapse that led to a Bacon jumper.
“Would I have taken the win?” Bennett said. “Absolutely.” But he knew the Wahoos had not done what’s usually required to secure a victory. Bennett cited their inability to execute at key moments in the second half.
“That’s the fine line every team in this league has,” Bennett said. “Some have it a little more [than others]. And we still had a chance. The crowd was trying like crazy to keep us in there. But it’s hard to be successful if you’re going to have some breakdowns like that down the stretch.”
Until Saturday, no opposing player had scored more than 18 points against UVA this season. Bacon, a graduate of Oak Hill Academy in Southwest Virginia, finished with 29 points — 26 of which came in the second half.
“He’s the real deal,” Perrantes said. “He can shoot the ball off the dribble from [3-point range], midrange and at the rim.”
When these teams met last season in Tallahassee, Fla., Bacon scored 18 points in Florida State’s 69-62 victory. He was unstoppable in the second half Saturday, making 10 of 13 shots from the floor, including 5 of 7 from beyond the 3-point arc. For the game, he was 6 for 9 from long range.
“He was a one-man show in so many ways, so that was frustrating,” Bennett said.
Bacon’s fifth trey, with 2:05 left, capped a 9-0 run that put the `Noles up 56-51. The score didn’t change until UVA forward Isaiah Wilkins’ layup made it 56-53 with 26.8 seconds remaining.
After FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac made 1 of 2 from the line, Virginia redshirt junior Devon Hall hit two free throws to make it 57-55 with 25.6 seconds to play.
With the home fans roaring, Isaac then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Hall grabbed the rebound, starting a possession that ended with a pass from Perrantes to freshman guard Kyle Guy, whose trey from the left corner put the Cavaliers ahead 58-57 with 8.8 seconds left.
Leonard Hamilton could have called a timeout after Guy’s fourth 3-pointer, but FSU’s head coach didn’t want to let UVA’s defense get set, and so play continued.
Isaac inbounded the ball to Bacon, who dribbled up the left side of the court. He pulled up on the left wing, about a foot behind the 3-point line, and launched a shot that the 6-7 Wilkins leaped to contest, to no avail.
“He hit a tough shot,” Hall said. “Hat’s off to him.”
Bacon’s shots “were going in all night, so I wasn’t, I guess I would say, shocked,” Bennett said.
Four players scored in double figures for UVA. Hall, Perrantes and redshirt junior Marial Shayok had 10 points apiece, and Guy totaled 14 in 23 minutes off the bench.
Guy, a McDonald’s All-American as a senior at Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis, is Virginia’s second-leading scorer (9.7 ppg) this season, behind only Perrantes (9.9). He’s shooting 54.4 percent from the floor, including 57.9 percent from 3-point range, and 81.8 percent from the line.
“He’s extremely confident,” Hamilton said. “He believes in himself,” Hamilton said, “and that’s what you get when you get guys that have grown up playing basketball in Indiana. It’s in their blood. He wasn’t nervous at all.
“He’s going to be a great, great player here, and people are going to enjoy watching him play.”
The Seminoles came in averaging 88.1 points per game and shooting 51.3 percent from the floor, but they struggled early against the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense. FSU made only 7 of 21 field-goal attempts in the first 20 minutes.
“They kept us from getting in any offensive rhythm,” Hamilton said.
Eventually, though, Bacon took over.
“I think he’s a special player,” Bennett said. “The shot he hit at the end of the game, from my vantage point, was pretty contested and tough, and he just rose up [and hit it], and that’s elite scoring.”
For the Cavaliers, their formula for success remains the same.
“We need everybody to be sound and tough, we need to take care of the ball, we need to get quality shots,” Bennett said.
In their win over Louisville, the `Hoos faltered late in the second half, but “it didn’t hurt us because we had a big lead,” Bennett said Saturday. “We didn’t have a big lead in this one. We were either down or it was a tight game, and we did some of the same things and it cost us.
“I’ve said it before: If we play well we’re going to be in a lot of close games, so the ability to get shots and get stops, and execute all game, is important.”
The Seminoles struggled from the line Saturday, making only 50 percent of their attempts, but they shot 24 free throws. The Cavaliers shot only five.
“That’s an X-factor area,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to be a high, high free-throw shooting team, but we need to try to get there a few more times and then capitalize when we do.”
The next opportunity comes Wednesday night at Pitt, where tipoff is set for 9 o’clock. The Cavaliers expect to have put the loss to FSU behind them by then.
“We’ve got to come in every night ready to play, but we also can’t hang our heads with losses, because everybody takes a loss,” Perrantes said.
Hall agreed. “This is one game. This is not the end of the world.”