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McFarling: Cavaliers' loss caps disastrous 1st round for ACC

McFarling: Cavaliers' loss caps disastrous 1st round for ACC

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NCAA Virginia Ohio Basketball (copy)

Ohio forward Dwight Wilson III (4) defends against Virginia forward Jay Huff (30) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Say hello to the Absolutely Crushed Conference.

Seven ACC men’s basketball teams headed to Indianapolis. After the first round, only two remained in the NCAA Tournament. The latest to be bounced was fourth-seeded Virginia, which suffered an ignominious scoring drought in the second half en route to losing 62-58 to 13th-seeded Ohio on Saturday night.

The Cavaliers joined ACC tournament champion Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina with first-round exits. The only survivors were Syracuse, which upset San Diego State on Friday before beating West Virginia on Sunday; and Florida State, which defeated UNC Greensboro on Saturday.

Not great, fellas.

Turns out the NCAA Tournament selection committee got it right. The ACC didn’t deserve anything better than a No. 4 seed. Louisville deserved to be left out. Had they gotten in, the Cardinals likely would have added just another name to the list of first-round fallen.

UNC got embarrassed by Wisconsin in an 8/9 game. Clemson, which received the conference’s third-best seed, proved to be punchless in its loss to Rutgers. The Hokies lost as a slight favorite over Florida. And Georgia Tech, playing without ACC player of the year Moses Wright due to a positive COVID-19 test, succumbed to a solid Loyola-Chicago team in another 8/9 matchup.

Add it all up, and Friday marked the first time in conference history that four ACC teams lost in the NCAA Tournament on the same day.

John Swofford must be rolling over in his 401(k) proceeds.

Then came Saturday, when the league’s regular-season champion — and, let’s not forget, the defending national champions — took the floor in Bloomington.

And UVa gave its conference more of the same.

Ben Vander Plas emerged as the talisman for Ohio, scoring a game-high 17 points and hitting several tough shots down the stretch. But it was on the other end of the floor where the Cavaliers lost this game.

Everybody knew the Bobcats were capable offensively. The MAC Tournament champions, who came into this matchup having won nine of their past 10 games, feature five players who average double figures in scoring.

Their defense, though, has been middling. KenPom rates Ohio 179th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bobcats had allowed opponents to score an average of 73.3 points per game — tied with Southern Utah for 245th in the country.

The Cavaliers scored a measly 58 points. They shot a woeful 35% from the field. This from a team that ranked 13th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency — an even better ranking than they had on defense (35th).

UVa’s COVID-19 situation almost certainly had something to do with this. Spending seven days in quarantine is less than ideal.

Unlike other teams, the Cavaliers couldn’t practice together during the week and had to fly out on Friday. We’ve seen plenty of teams struggle with their conditioning and offensive flow this season when their practice schedules have been disrupted.

Even with those stipulations, though, the UVa offense reeked at the wrong time. After Kihei Clark made a layup to give Virginia a 38-31 lead with 14:35 remaining, the Cavaliers went more than 10 minutes without a field goal.

By the time Reece Beekman broke the drought with a driving layup, Ohio led 47-40 and could sense the imminence of an upset.

“It was just one of those things where the shots just weren’t falling,” UVa forward Sam Hauser said. “I don’t think it was tired legs at all. I just think it’s one of those games where it happens, and it happens to everyone.”

Everyone in the ACC, at least.

Hey, maybe Florida State or Syracuse will make a run and salvage some conference pride. Maybe it’ll be like the 2017 NCAA Tournament, when UVa, Duke, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami and Louisville all got bounced early — some of them as heavy favorites — before UNC made us all forget the pre-Sweet 16 carnage by winning the national title.

If that happens, though, don’t buy any lies the victors might tell that their league prepared them to become champions.

Not this year. Not this ACC.

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com.

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