The Virginia Cavaliers went 29-3 and won the ACC regular-season championship this year, but they enter the NCAA Tournament having lost two of their last three games. They ended the regular season with a 59-57 loss at Louisville on March 7 and lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals to North Carolina, 71-67, last Friday.
“We got off to a tough start (against Carolina) and clawed our way back,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It was really an exciting ending, but (we) didn’t have enough – and that’s the reality of tournament basketball, the one-and-done mentality. So you’re disappointed, but you say, ‘Okay, now we got the NCAA Tournament.’ When anything like that happens, you learn from those experiences and I guess the positive is, ‘All right, we’ll take an extra day of rest and get as healthy as we can heading into this tournament.’”
Rest is something Justin Anderson could probably use a little more of. The junior guard missed most of February and part of March recovering from an appendectomy. He returned for the ACC Tournament, played a combined 26 minutes against Florida State and North Carolina and finished with zero points on 0-of-6 shooting.
“This will be an important week,” Bennett said. “I can’t tell you if he’ll be closer to where he was. As Tiki knows as a player, there’s a rhythm, there’s a timing. It just takes more reps, more time. I can’t answer exactly what percent (he’ll be for the tournament), but I hope it’s better than he was and I’m thankful that he got a couple of games in.”
No. 2 Virginia (29-3, 16-2) will face No. 15 Belmont (22-10, 11-5) in East Regional action this Friday at 3:10 p.m. ET. The Bruins ended Murray State’s 25-game winning streak and have four players shooting at least 39.3 percent from three-point range.
“Belmont is – like every coach will say, but (it’s) true – very dangerous,” Bennett said. “They have such terrific shooters. Coach (Rick) Byrd has been there a long time and (been) a very successful coach. They have a player who played for us for a couple years, Taylor Barnette – the young man who hit the three to win the game against Murray State. They spread the floor so well. Again, very sound, very disciplined and really make a lot of threes. They can play. There’s no question. That’s what this is about. You got to play well. You can’t say, ‘Well, we got an easy one.’ No way. It’s just that level of parity in college basketball.”
If victorious, Virginia advances to the Round of 32 to play the winner of No. 7 Michigan State versus No. 10 Georgia. Michigan State beat Virginia in the Sweet 16 last season and took Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten Championship on Sunday.
“They’re playing good basketball,” Bennett said. “That could have gone to them against a Wisconsin team that’s obviously terrific, so you know the quality they have. I saw Georgia played Kentucky close for the large majority of the game. So they’re all good regions, but this is a good one. Like I said, Belmont is a dangerous team without a doubt the way they play. We watched last year in our region (when) Mercer was a 15-seed (and beat) Duke. You have to come ready. And again, that’s the joy of this tournament. There’s excitement. It’s unpredictable. But yeah, it’s a good (bracket) for sure.”