No. 3 Virginia (21-6, 10-5) has once again been one of the best teams in college basketball this season. The Cavaliers are 4-1 against ranked teams, and all six of their losses have been by single digits. Five have been by five points or fewer. Three have been by three points or fewer.
No loss, however, was more frustrating than Virginia’s 63-62 setback at Duke on Feb. 13.
The Cavaliers were seeking their first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995 but lost on a buzzer-beating drive by Grayson Allen, who clearly traveled before throwing up a prayer that got answered.
Brandon Tierney felt Virginia got “hosed.” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett wouldn’t go that far – at least not publicly.
“In the moment, you get after it,” the Virginia head coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You see the replay. Certain things are reviewable by rule and certain things are not, and apparently that cannot be reviewed. But you can’t go back and replay it and say the guy took steps – because what if he got fouled? You’re opening up a can of worms that I don’t think you want to get into. But I think the absolutes – like ball in hand and clock – is one thing. You sometimes lose your cool in the heat of battle and sometimes you don’t see things and you just always try to – what do they say? – ask for forgiveness after the fact.”
Virginia has lost two of its last three games by a combined four points – at Duke and at No. 12 Miami. Even so, Virginia is still very much alive for an ACC regular-season championship. The Cavaliers trail North Carolina (22-5, 11-3) by just a game-and-a-half in the standings and host the Tar Heels this Saturday in Charlottesville at 6:30 p.m. ET. They also host No. 11 Louisville (21-6, 10-4) on March 5.
“I still think five losses could perhaps get a share of this thing,” Bennett said. “It might not. I think we’re in a spot where, if we play our best and play well, we have a chance to be successful in all those games. But there’s also the reality of you could be beat by all three of those teams. That’s why we always say, ‘We know we can do this, but will we?’ That’s the question you always have to answer as a competitor going into it, and it’s certainly going to show any areas that you got to improve (before) postseason play because of the quality of this schedule.”
Whatever happens in the regular season, Virginia will certainly be one of the favorites in the ACC Tournament. Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 points per game), Anthony Gill (13.6) and London Perrantes (11.2) have been tremendous for the Cavaliers. Perrantes, in fact, has shot an unconscious 52.5 percent from three-point range, while Brogdon has shot 40.8 percent from deep.
As good as the Cavaliers have been though, Tiki Barber, a UVA grad, can’t help but wonder just how dominant this team could have been with Justin Anderson, who left school early and declared for the draft last year. Anderson was selected 21st overall by the Dallas Mavericks.
“I absolutely don’t fault (him for leaving early),” Bennett said. “Those are hard decisions for young men. They have opportunities. But yeah, he’s a heck of a player, a quality player. He brings a level of charisma. We’d be one of the more physical perimeter teams with Malcolm and him, as we were last year, but that’s just how it is. Looking back at it in hindsight, he’s got a three-year guaranteed deal, he’s experienced wonderful things at Virginia, and hopefully he’ll come back and get the degree and all that. I do not fault him at all. Of course I would have loved it if he would have stayed, but I’m so happy that he got solidified in a good spot. So I think it was a win-win for him, especially how it played out.”