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UVa boasts the ACC's top returning scorer in senior Joe Harris, as well as fifth-year head coach Tony Bennett, who's now firmly established in the program.
Coach Tony Bennett's Cavaliers were picked to finish fourth in the ACC in the preseason poll conducted Wednesday.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To most supporters of the Virginia men’s basketball program, anything less than an NCAA tournament appearance would be a disappointment.
Fifth-year head coach Tony Bennett can live with those expectations.
At this point, an NCAA bid is the goal every year.
“If this were my first year, I wouldn’t say that,” Bennett said Wednesday at the ACC’s Operation Basketball. “We’re now entering into the fifth year of our program.
“There’s been progress, but now that we’ve got a little more maturity, hopefully we can take that next step. It’s about taking steps.”
The Cavaliers’ lone tourney appearance under Bennett was in 2012, when they finished 22-10. Last year, they got to the third round of the National Invitation Tournament before finishing 23-12.
The Cavaliers, who have the ACC’s top returning scorer in senior Joe Harris, were picked fourth in the preseason poll conducted Wednesday.
Preseason favorite Duke was picked first on 50 of 54 ballots. Newcomer Syracuse was second, followed by North Carolina .
Syracuse senior C.J. Fair was named preseason player of the year. Fair received 17 votes, one more than Harris, while Duke’s Jabari Parker was a nearly unanimous choice (52 of 53 votes) for preseason rookie of the year.
Fair, Harris and Parker were joined on the preseason All-ACC team by Duke’s Rodney Hood and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant. Hood is a transfer from Mississippi State.
Virginia tied for fourth in the preseason poll in both 2011-12 and 2012-13 and that’s where the Cavaliers finished in the regular season on both occasions. With the memory of last March etched in his mind, Bennett knows that a fourth-place finish doesn’t guarantee an NCAA bid.
Besides, ACC newcomers this year include a trio of NCAA Tournament teams — Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
But what will the NCAA selection committee think?
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Bennett said. “You can’t add the quality of teams that we have and not have it help your strength of schedule and help your RPI rating.
“I think that’s all going to be a positive, but you’d better be improved or it’s going to be hard to keep up. Just because you’re a better team — which, hopefully, I think we are — I don’t think it guarantees anything.”
Seven ACC teams, a high, received NCAA bids in 2009 and 2011. Only four went last year.
“Last year, we thought we had a chance,” Bennett said. “The ACC is respected but it’s certainly going to have more credibility.
“Whether it’s a 10-bid league or an eight-bid league, you’ll have to play well to get there, but you’ll have more opportunities for big wins than you have in the past.”
No ACC coach ha s studied the NCAA selection process as thoroughly as Miami’s Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006 and last year led the Hurricanes to the ACC championship.
“There’s no way to predict right now how good we’ll be or how good the league will be,” Larranaga said. “Right now, it’s all talk.
“Our goal as a team should be to get to the NCAA Tournament. Our goal, as a league, should be to get 10 teams because, when you have so many traditionally-rich programs, all of them are thinking NCAA postseason.”
The only time that any conference has gotten double-digit bids was in 2011, when the Big East received 11 bids. Three of those teams were Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Larranaga has turned nonconference scheduling into a science, “but this year we’ve added three teams [and] every game we play against them is a Top 25 game,” he said.
So, maybe the nonconference schedule will not be as great a factor, but, since the teams play an unbalanced conference schedule, there could be ample variance. Virginia plays Notre Dame twice in the regular-season but has one game apiece with Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
“Am I excited about this year?” Bennett said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. Am I realistic? Absolutely. But if we play to our fullest abilities, I think we’ll be a tough out.”
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