Men’s basketball opens up NCAA Tournament against UNC-Wilmington

Virginia receives No. 5 seed in East region


Coach Tony Bennett's team will face UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

After days of anxiously waiting following its elimination from the ACC Tournament, the Virginia men’s basketball team now knows its fate in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia (22-10, 11-7 ACC) will be No. 5 in the East region of the tournament and will take on No. 12 UNC-Wilmington (29-5, 15-3 CAA) in Orlando, Fla. Thursday.

Virginia comes into the Big Dance on the heels of a rough loss in the ACC Tournament against Notre Dame, in which it could not find a rhythm on offense or defense. The Cavaliers have certainly been more inconsistent this season than in prior years — the team went into last year’s tournament with only seven losses as opposed to this season’s 10. However, winning several marquee matchups and having the nation’s best scoring defense impressed the selection committee enough to grant the team a high seed.

The Cavaliers impressive wins include two against Louisville, Notre Dame on the road and North Carolina — a No. 1 seed in the tournament — at home. The committee also probably considered Virginia’s tough last-second losses to Florida State and Villanova in giving the team a high seed.

In the tournament, the Cavaliers must strive to avoid all of the vulnerabilities they showed this season if they want to make. Inconsistent play in the second half of games and long scoring droughts plagued Virginia in most of its losses this year. When Virginia plays a complete 40 minutes of basketball, however, it is one of the most dangerous teams in the country. The Cavaliers will have to play at an elite level each game if they hope to advance in a very tough region.

The East region is headlined by No. 1 seed Villanova, who beat Virginia on a last second tip-in in a thrilling January matchup. Behind the Wildcats is another of Virginia’s familiar foes in the Duke Blue Devils, who earned a No. 2 seed after winning the ACC Tournament Saturday night. Duke beat Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena in February when star freshman forward Jayson Tatum erupted for 28 points. Virginia is also joined in the bracket by No. 9 seed Virginia Tech, with whom the Cavaliers split the season series in conference play, and by No. 11 seed Providence, whom Virginia defeated in the Emerald Coast Classic in November.

Virginia’s first matchup against UNC-Wilmington pits the Cavaliers against the winners of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Seahawks defeated College of Charleston March 6 in the title game to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In last year’s tournament, the Seahawks gave Duke a tough challenge in the round-of-64, falling to the Blue Devils 93-85. UNC-Wilmington averages a whopping 85.2 points per game and is ranked no. 27 nationally in college basketball’s RPI statistic — making the Seahawks a tough draw for the Cavaliers.

Sophomore guard C.J. Bryce leads the Seahawks with 17.6 points per game, and the team has three other players averaging over 12 points per game to compliment him. If Virginia is able to get past the Seahawks, they will face the winner of the No. 4-No. 13 matchup of Florida and East Tennessee State University.

The Cavaliers will aim to put the struggles of the regular season behind them to make a final rally for a championship in the NCAA Tournament. Tipoff between Virginia and UNC-Wilmington is set for Thursday at 12:40 p.m. 

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