'Hoos Back in Familiar Territory
March 13, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For London Perrantes, the scene was one he’s grown accustomed to, and he waited patiently for CBS’ Selection Sunday show to start on the enormous TV screen in front of him.
“It’s just kind of second nature to me,” said Perrantes, the only senior on the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, which is headed to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.
Seated next to Perrantes during the selection show, which the Cavaliers watched together, was freshman guard Kyle Guy. He was as nervous as Perrantes was calm.
“I had the butterflies the whole time,” Guy said, “because this is something I’ve grown up watching.”
The selection show started at 5:30 p.m. Four minutes later, Virginia appeared in the East Region bracket.
“This is the earliest we’ve been called,” Perrantes said. “I was happy about that.”
UVA (22-10), the No. 5 seed in the East, will face No. 12 seed UNC Wilmington (29-5) in a first-round game Thursday at 12:40 p.m. at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. The winner will take on No. 4 Florida or No. 13 seed East Tennessee State in the second round Saturday.
“I’m just happy it’s in Orlando instead of Wisconsin,” a smiling Perrantes said, referring to the first- and second-round games that will be held in Milwaukee.
“I’m trying not to go to any more cold weather.”
Colonial Athletic Association champion UNCW, whose head coach is Kevin Keatts, will be making its second straight appearance in the NCAA tourney. The Seahawks are a veteran team that’s not likely to be in awe of UVA. CBS analyst Clark Kellogg, in fact, predicted an UNCW upset of UVA.
In last year’s NCAA tournament, UNCW challenged Duke before losing 93-85.
“That tells you something about [the Seahawks’] caliber of play,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “I certainly have great respect for that.”
Keatts has a 72-27 record in three seasons at UNCW. He’s a former Louisville assistant who before joining Rick Pitino’s staff spent eight years as head coach of the powerful postgraduate team at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.
This is Bennett’s eighth year at UVA, where his record after two seasons was 31-31. Since then, the `Hoos have gone 156-51, and this will be their fifth trip to the NCAAs in six seasons. (Virginia advanced to the NIT quarterfinals in 2012-13.)
Only once before in program history — 1981, ’82, ’83 and ’84 — has UVA made four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
“That’s one of the goals at the start of the year: to qualify for this tournament, which is such a big deal,” Bennett said. “And to not have to sweat [Selection Sunday] out? That’s a good thing.
“I don’t ever want to take that for granted, because if you start taking that for granted, I think that’s a mistake. But it’s nice to have established some consistency.”
In 2014, Perrantes’ freshman season, the Cavaliers made their first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1995. They reached the round of 32 in 2015 and then last year advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
“That’s everybody’s goal going into the season: to be able to make the [NCAAs] and then try and make a run in the tournament,” Perrantes said. “Just being able to do it four years in a row is huge.”
Perrantes remembers his first NCAA tournament game, a win over Coastal Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.
“I was nervous, for sure, just being in a different environment,” Perrantes said. “You grow up watching the NCAA tournament, and you’re finally able to play in it. There was so much energy, so many different feelings as to what was going on.
“I think once the ball gets tipped, it’s just another game of basketball. But it’s obviously a special tournament, so we’re going to have to calm them down, I guess. But these young guys, I think they’ll be ready.”
The Cavaliers’ rotation includes two players who were in high school at this time last year — Guy and fellow guard Ty Jerome — as well as redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite. Bennett hopes the experience the freshmen gained during a grueling ACC schedule pays dividends in the NCAA tournament.
Nine teams from the conference — a record for the ACC — received invitations to the NCAAs.
“I think in this league you play in so many big games and so many big settings, my hope is that you’re prepared for [the NCAA tournament],” Bennett said.
“We’ve got some guys that have experience in these settings, so that will help,” Bennett said, “and we’ve got some new guys who we’ll see how they respond.”
Guy said: “I talked to London a little today while we were watching the selection show, and he just said, `Be ready, no matter who we play. It doesn’t matter who we play. Just worry about who’s in front of us.’ So that’s sort of the mindset.
“I know the guys are ready and I’m ready, so we’re really excited.”
The Cavaliers spent most of last week in New York City. At the ACC tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, UVA defeated Pittsburgh in the second round before losing to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
The team returned to Charlottesville on Friday afternoon. Bennett said he hopes the Cavaliers’ early exit from the ACC tourney will help the players be fresher for the challenge that awaits them in Orlando.
“You have to always say, OK, this allows us to get back and try to get some guys healed up and rested and be as ready as we can for what we know is another level of intensity, when you step into the NCAA tournament,” Bennett said.
“We know what’s waiting for us, and it’s exciting.”
“We’re playing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what seed we are, who we’re playing against. It’s just a blessing to be able to be in the tournament again.”