Jun 26, 2017

(RSS) Pulse of the Fan


Live blogging the ACC Tournament

Video: Mike London reacts after Ball State loss

Mike London was disappointed after the game, calling the 48-27 loss “embarassing.” Here’s him in his own words, on the loss and the team’s penalties.

ACC Champs Coverage: Selection Sunday

Virginia may have crashed unceremoniously out of the ACC Tournament Friday, but we still have a media pass and a computer throughout the weekend. Join us for analysis and insight during the final rounds at the Greensboro Coliseum, as well as for constant discussion about #UVa’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

9:26 PM: Even by trying to honor Virginia’s accomplishments this season, the NIT may have simply exposed the Cavaliers to more danger.

Virginia earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT tournament and will host Norfolk State at John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Spartans, you may remember, shocked Missouri as a No. 15 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament and finished 16-0 in MEAC play this year. In other words, the Cavaliers must overcome a dangerous first hurdle to the deep NIT run the young roster could use. Check out our full story on the NIT berth later on cavalierdaily.com

That concludes our weekend basketball coverage. Thanks for following along with us all weekend.

7:48 PM: When people tell me they prefer college basketball to the professional game, they usually cite two aspects of the amateur game: a more team-oriented aura than the superstar-fueled NBA, and the frequency with which buzzer-beaters, upsets and other exhilarating phenomena occur.

This past weekend’s ACC Tournament, although replete with its fair share of balanced team play, revolved around individual excellence. There were no buzzer-beaters, and only one major upset—Maryland’s quarterfinal victory against a Duke team that looked more disinterested than a suburban dad at a Pitbull concert. But the four-day basketball extravaganza in Greensboro captured the essence of college basketball’s appeal, even as it disheartened and frustrated—yet again—Virginia and its fans.

The individual superlatives started early on Thursday, when Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan scored an ACC freshman-record 41 points with a jumper sweeter than the maple syrup from his native Canada. A day later, Scott Wood hit four straight 3-pointers in the second half to sledgehammer a hapless Virginia team in front of a delirious partisan N.C. State crowd. Dez Wells dropped 30 monumental points on the Blue Devils a few hours later, Durand Scott torched the Wolfpack for 32 points Saturday, and P.J. Hairston hit long bomb after long bomb all weekend long.

But even among such sublime individual efforts, Shane Larkin’s performance elevated the Miami point guard head and shoulders above the rest. There are usually two types of dominant point guards: the Steve Nash’s of the world who addle opposing coaches with their instincts, vision and quick hands, and the Russell Westbrook’s of the world who burn opponents with sheer athleticism and talent. In averaging 23.7 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds this weekend, Larkin showcased why he is both at the same time. Whenever Miami needed a steady hand on offense or a hot hand needed the ball—as Scott did Saturday—Larkin provided it. When the Hurricanes were struggling to contain an opponent on defense, Larkin came up with the crucial steal or locked down a hot shooter. And when adversity started to affect his teammates, Larkin, like all truly great point guards, rose to the occasion and bailed the Hurricanes out with a spectacular drive or clutch 3. In the end, the best compliment you can pay the Tournament MVP is that while other players impressed this weekend, only Larkin made you say, “That guy’s in a different stratosphere.”

With all the emphasis on the individual and a fair few lopsided games, the unenlightened might think this year’s ACC Tournament was a drab, spiritless affair. How wrong they would be. Anyone else lucky enough to witness the action this weekend experienced ultra-competitive and occasionally jaw-dropping basketball. In a sports culture which subjects athletes to constant exposure and scrutiny, I saw players—especially in the weekend’s final two, pulsating contests—dive for loose balls, take pressure-packed 3’s and brawl for rebounds with a fervor that transcended the mere desire to impress outside onlookers. In the frantic final between North Carolina and Miami, I saw two teams battle as if singularly obsessed with nothing more than beating each other. Tournament seeding, ESPN and all the other noise faded away.

If anything, my exposure to an enthralling ACC Tournament this weekend renders Virginia’s ineptitude in the event that much more infuriating. Cavalier fans deserve to enjoy the quality and intensity of basketball I was blessed to witness this weekend. Still, I will always treasure this weekend as a sportswriter for teaching me that college basketball succeeds not because of any abstract notions of team-play or “Madness,” but because it showcases human, flawed college basketball players exerting a superhuman effort on the court. We all need a reminder of what passion and determination can produce from time to time, even if we have to swallow the bitter pill of a home team’s loss in the process.

3:17 PM: Virginia may own traditional football powerhouse Miami on the gridiron after three straight victories. After their best season on the court, however, the Hurricanes own everyone in the ACC in basketball.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Shane Larkin capped a remarkable ACC Tournament with his best performance yet, racking up 28 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in Miami’s 87-77 win against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final. No team has finished first in the ACC regular-season standings, won the championship and not received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina and P.J. Hairston, infatuated as ever with the 3-point shot, put forth a valiant effort in defeat. Hairston finished with 28 points on 6-of-13 but faded, along with his teammates, down the stretch against Larkin and a physically preeminent Miami squad.

We’ll be back in a little bit for a more extended recap of the weekend’s action, as well as an update once we determine the Cavaliers’ postseason fate.

2:00 PM: While we all would have preferred to see Virginia grind and claw its way to the ACC Tournament final, the two teams that did reach the game are orchestrating quite the enthralling offensive show..

In a Greesnboro Coliseum doused in powder blue, Miami and North Carolina combined for 15 3-pointers and several eye-popping exhibitions of athleticism in a pulsating first half of action. The Hurricanes hold a 44-41 edge, with sublime point guard Shane Larkin twirling and twisting his way around the Tar Heels to the tune of 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and zero turnovers. He has become a legitimate college basketball superstar, a player for which the price of admission fails to capture the full value of watching.

Greesnboro-native P.J. Hairston has tallied an exhilarating 15 points for North Carolina, at one point hitting four straight 3-pointers near the end of the half. James Michael McAdoo has played his finest game of the tournament, as well, scoring six points and refusing to let the Miami “Monstar”-like front line bully him in the paint.

Meanwhile, Florida leads Ole Miss 38-24 at halftime.

Check back after the game!
12:45 PM: College baskeball’s version of Christmas morning has arrived. After ACC regular-season champion Miami battles an upstart North Carolina squad in the ACC Championships final at 1 p.m., the NCAA Selection Committee will finalize this year’s tournament field later this evening. I, for one, am hoping to triumph against my 10-tear old little sister this time around after a shocking upset loss in the bracket-picking competition last year.

Of course, how happy the Virginia men’s basketball team and fans are tonight will likely depend on whether the Cavaliers receive a tournament berth. Although an Ole Miss defeat to Florida in the SEC Tournament today would theoretically thrust the Rebels back in the bubble fray with teams such as Virginia, Boise State and Tennessee, Virginia’s tournament fate likely will remain relatively static as the day wears on. A Wisconsin victory against Ohio State would likely supply a small boost to their RPI, but that’s about it.

By now, Virginia fans understand why mystery still surrounds its team’s tournament profile: a high finish in an excellent conference and impressive wins against several tournament locks belie the RPI of 74, the out-of-conference SOS in the high 200’s and a 13-7 record against teams outside the RPI Top 100. Those seven losses include head-scratchers against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and—most notoriously—three losses against the mighty Colonial Athletic Association.

Ultimately, the Cavaliers’ putrid performance Friday against N.C. State probably submarined their fragile tournament hopes, but hope remains—simply put, the unprecedented makeup of Virginia’s resume prevents us from predicting any outcome with absolute certainty. But for those wallowing in resentment and self-pity at the notion of an NIT berth, allow me to express a sentiment echoed by many of the other Virginia media here in Greensboro: for a young Virginia team in desperate need of a late-season confidence boost, a lengthy NIT run featuring several home games holds more value than an embarrassing early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Bubble consternation aside, we have more basketball to watch here in Greensboro. The slight edge likely belongs to Miami, who have a staggering size advantage over a diminutive Tar Heel lineup and get the karma boost of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. Moreover, Durand Scott and Shane Larkin will probably be able to contain the perimeter shooting of Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and co. more effectively than Florida State or Maryland managed to.

Still, there’s a reason North Carolina terrifies me for bracket-picking time; while the Tar Heels can shoot themselves out of games, they could shoot themselves to the Final Four if they got going. Hence, an offensive outburst could propel North Carolina to a victory here. Barring that, however, this is the Hurricanes’ game to lose.

More discussion at halftime and on @CavDailySports.

ACC Champs Coverage: Day 3

Virginia may have crashed unceremoniously out of the ACC Tournament Friday, but we still have a media pass and a computer throughout the weekend. Join us for analysis and insight during the semifinal and final rounds at the Greensboro Coliseum.

6:06 PM: It took a while, but the ACC Tournament finally got its signature game.

Fueled by a wild,partisan North Carolina crowd,the Tar Heels managed to run out
the clock and preserve a 79-76 victory after Logan Aronhalt’s game-tying 3-pointer missed the rim. Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock spearheaded a balance North Carolina attack with 15 apiece, while Marcus Paige scored five monumental points in the final minutes to overcome a sluggish start. Alex Len scored 20 points and seven rebounds to lead the Terrapins.

Give both teams credit: after two-and-a-half days of intriguing but lopsided basketball, North Carolina and Maryland provided us with the kind of frenetic, emotionally-charged drama that glues c basketball fans to their seats during March. And on a sobering weekend that has likely shaken the Virginia community’s fervor for this often-maddening sport, I, for one, appreciated the opportunity to enjoy a quintessentially kooky college basketball game.

The loss probably drops Maryland from NCAA Tournament consideration, or at least to a relatively level plane with Virginia. Meanwhile, an Ole Miss win against Vanderbilt in the SEC semifinals likely catapulted the Rebels and fun-to-hate rabble-rouser Marshall Henderson to an NCAA bid. But with an Alabama loss and RPi=I-boosting win, Virginia remains this afternoon roughly where it began this morning: in limbo and probably on the outside looking in.

That’ll do it for Saturday’s coverage, but check with us tomorrow for what sets up as an offensive fireworks display between Miami and North Carolina in the final Sunday. As always, follow us on @CavDailySports, as well.

4:42 PM: At halftime of the penultimate game of the ACC Tournament, Virginia’s bleak tournament hopes sudddenly look a shade brighter.

After Wisconsin dispacted No. 3 Miami in the B1G—no, I don’t know how to pronounce that, either—Tournament, thereby elevating Virginia’s RPI and Strength of Schedule, North Carolina hit a bevy of outside jumpers and ran all over the place to build a 37-32 halftime lead. A Maryland victory all but boots the Cavaliers from at-large contention; a loss keeps Virginia on the fringe of the conversation.

Dexter Strickland leads all scorers with 11 points, pacing a Tar Heel team that seems to hit a ton of shots even when it shoots at a measly 42.9 percent rate. Maryland’s Dez Wells has only 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting after lighting up the scoreboard for 51 points in his first two tournament outings.

Check back here for the final post of Semifinal Saturday after the game.

3:44 PM: He’s no Mike Scott, but Miami’s Durand Scott sure stole the show Saturday.
With a career-high 32 points, the Hurricanes’ best defensive stopper propelled his team to an 81-71 victory against N.C. State and a berth in the ACC Championship final tomorrow afternoon. In conjunction with losses from other top-ten teams such as Duke, Michigan and Georgetown, the victory thrusts Miami back into the conversation for a top-two seed next weekend. Shane Larkin chipped in with 23 points and 7 rebounds.

Scott Wood posted another gem with 21 points for N.C. State, who were annihilated 37-27 in the rebounding department after outrebounding its first two opponents in the ACC Tournament by double-digits. After pounding the Hokies and Cavaliers, Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie played tentatively and sloppily for the Wolfpack, with Leslie grabbing only two rebounds and both committing three turnovers against a monstrous Miami frontcourt. The Wolfpack lost despite shooting 57.1 percent in the second half.

In a few minutes, Maryland and North Carolina will play for the right to meet Miami, which will showcase the biggest ACC Tournament controversy no one is talking about. With about five minutes to play in the Tar Heels blowout victory against Florida State last night, coach Roy Williams decided to reinsert starting winger P.J. Hairston—you know, because you really need your starters on the court with a 20-point lead late in the game and the prospect of two more games in the next two days. After that inane coaching decision, Hairston lacerated his left hand and required several stitches. He will play but his level of effectiveness remains unclear.

More to come at half.

2:20 PM: In the pregame buildup to each of Miami’s ACC Tournament games, much of the chatter surrounded Durand Scott’s defensive assignments against scorching shooters such as Olivier Hanlan and Scott Wood.

So far, Scott has decided to handle the hot shooting himself.

The conference Defensive Player of the Year has flashed his offensive prowess with a game-high 19 points on a variety of long 3-point bombs and slices through a swiss cheese N.C. State defense. Thanks to his 7-of-11 masterpiece, Miami leads N.C. State 41-29 at halftime and has resembled the squad that pasted Duke and North Carolina earlier this year.

The advantage would have been even larger had N.C. State not engineered a frenzied last-minute rally to pull within 12. With his team trailing 39-20, Wood took a break from haunting Virginia fans’ nightmares and hit two straight 3-pointers—including one with a foul—to hit a lighnting quick 7 points. N.C. State would have pulled even closer had it been able to convert free throws at a more efficient rate than the 50 percent mark that would make Dwight Howard blush.

More to come after the game.

12:48 PM: While Cavalier fans endure the emotional hangover from a men’s basketball performance Friday that rivals Carl Lewis’s singing in ineptitude, the show continues at the Greensboro Coliseum. Top-seeded Miami and N.C. State square off in the afternoon’s first matchup.

The overwhelming urge is to wager on the Wolfpack pulling the upset here, considering the ease with which N.C. State decimated Virginia and the Hurricanes’ sputtering offensive effort against Boston College yesterday. Besides, Miami needed a Reggie Johnson tip-in with less than a second remaining to survive a Lorenzo Brown-less Wolfpack during the regular season; and as Virginia fans learned to their woe yesterday, Brown alters the equation.

Still, I would caution against counting the Hurricanes out just yet. For one thing, N.C. State won’t be able to own the boards as it has against smaller Virginia Tech and Virginia teams against the gargantuan Kenny Kadji-Johnson duo. Also, unless he morphed into Ray Allen yesterday, Scott Wood will not replicate his unconscious 7-of-12 3-point shooting for the second straight game.

The X-factor? Shane Larkin against Brown in a matchup of by far the conference’s best point guards. Expect Larkin and Miami to gain the slight edge in a razorthin victory.

More to come at halftime.

ACC Championships Coverage: Day 2

Whether you’re resting at home, engaging in service work, or drinking one of those fruity concoctions with the little umbrellas in them, check “Pulse of the Fan” all weekend for extensive ACC Tournament coverage.

11:50 PM: Scintillating outside shooting and a Florida State defense that mentally went back to Tallahassee midway through the second half combined to produce an 83-62 North Carolina victory in the game’s final day. Though the outcome offers virtually no relevance to Virginia fans, the game showcased in small ways why so many of us spend our weekend nights watching college basketball: exciting offense, maximum effort, and an emotional, talented senior—Michael Snaer—valiantly battling in his final game.

If you’ve recovered from today’s tragedy by tomorrow, Virginia fans, join us again for our coverage of the ACC Semifinals. Action should be top-quality, especially between a soaring N.C. State squad and a Miami team that still has the conference’s best player in Shane Larkin. In the other game, Tournament halfway-MVP Dez Wells will try to work another miracle against North Carolina and its impressive combination of perimeter play, inside brawn and facial hair.

Good night everybody, and we’ll see you tomorrow!

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9:29 PM: Day 2 of the ACC Tournament has featured high-quality basketball so far. Unfortunately, it’s also proving ruinous to Virginia’s NCAA chances.

Led by a career-high 30 points from Dez Wells, Maryland outlasted a Duke team that came out flat and never fully recovered for an 83-74 victory. In addition to wresting a sure No. 1 seed from Duke, the outcome probably catapults the Terrapins above the Cavaliers on the NCAA Tournament bubble. It’s been that kind of a day for Virginia fans; even when their most detested rival mails in a Tournament game, they can’t fully enjoy it.

Check in again for updates during the Friday finale, which pits No. 3 seed North Carolina against sixth-seeded Florida State.

8:49 PM: While the Terrapins and Blue Devils duke it out in game three of the ACC Tournament’s second day, let’s quickly summarize the enigma that is Virginia’s NCAA at-large status.

The Cavaliers, the expert consensus holds, have compiled one of the weirdest NCAA Tournament resumes in decades. For every marquee win against a team such as Duke and Wisconsin, Virginia has suffered losses against the likes of Old Dominion, Delaware and Wake Forest. As a result, although the Cavaliers brandish a 4-3 record against the RPI top-50 that outstrips that of other bubble teams, their RPI of 64 and glaring seven losses against teams below the top-100 in RPI barely even begins to approach the typical standard to which the Selection Committee holds at-large contestants. It’s even unclear whether Virginia passes the “eye” test as a tourney-worthy team. Though few observers would dispute that Virginia features a defensively staunch, feisty unit, the squad’s limited offensive capabilities hardly cater to the standard NCAA fan’s preferences.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason Virginia media members here and the more learned fans are surlier than Kristen Stewart on a rainy day right now: losing as they did Friday to N.C. State probably killed the Cavaliers’ chances. Whereas a win would have validated Virginia as a gritty, dangerous team, Friday’s lackluster effort merely highlighted the glaring offensive deficiencies that have rendered the team borderline unwatchable this year. As Tony Bennett aptly remarked of his players: “You can certainly win with them, but you can lose with them.”

Although Virginia fans should not forsake all hope of a tournament berth, the team’s most likely destination next week is an extremely welcome one: John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers would likely be a top-three seed in the NIT Tournament, meaning they’d get to host a game against the likes of Richmond or Norfolk State. That contest would occur Tuesday or Wednesday or next week.

Lost in all the tournament intrigue swirling around Bennett’s boys these past two weeks. Compared to the preseason prognostications, Virginia has overacheived dramatically in vying for a tournament berth until the bitter end. Though today cast a shadow over the 2013 season, the long-term future has never looked brighter for Virginia basketball.

5:05 PM: Some combinations, such as mayonnaise and mustard and Skip Bayliss and a microphone, just don’t go together well.

Add the Virginia men’s basketball team and the ACC Tournament on the list.

Outclassed and overpowered by a surging N.C. State team, the Cavaliers have failed to reach the semifinal round of the tournament for the conference-high 18th consecutive season after losing 75-56 in Friday’s quarterfinal round. Despite junior forward Akil Mitchell’s admirable 19-point, 8 rebound performance, Virginia shot an abysmal 5-of-20 from beyond the arc and were outrebounded 39-28. Scott Wood posted a game-high 23 points for the Wolfpack and put the game beyond reach with four straight 3-pointers in the second half.

The full, depressing details are forthcoming on cavalierdaily.com

3:22 PM: Halftime

2:41 PM: Tipoff!

1:10 PM: It was a tale of two halves within a half between Miami and Boston College. After smothering the Eagles’ offense and compiling a 21-8 lead, the Hurricanes simultaneously started throwing bricks and fouling Boston College indiscriminately—enabling the Eagles to end the half on a 19-4 run and enter the break with a 27-25 lead.

The mmuch-ballyhooed matchup between Durand Scott and Olivier Hanlan has fizzled so far, with Hanlan scoring 7 points on just three field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Scott and the rest of his teammates have looked so disheveled in a 31.0 percent shooting calamity that a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a certainty last week, may slip away from the team if it continues to flounder.

More to come after this game.

11:52 AM: Welcome to the Ides of March edition of our ACC Championships coverage! We’re locked and loaded at the Greensboro Coliseum to watch eighth-seeded Boston College try to upend top-seed Miami before Virginia finally takes the court to clash with N.C. State around 2:30 p.m. For an in-depth analysis on what the Cavaliers must do to avoid early elimination and the “privilege” of hosting an NIT game, check yesterday’s blog post.

Duke and Maryland will commence the night session at 7 p.m., with North Carolina and Florida State closing today’s action thereafter.

Up first, though, Boston College and Olivier Hanlan — whose 41-point eruption against Georgia Tech to open the tournament highlighted an otherwise drab first day of action — face the Hurricanes. Keep checking this blog and @CavDailySports on Twitter for frequent updates throughout the day, especially when the Cavaliers finally take the court. And otherwise, if you want to hear me marvel at Reggie Johnson’s size or maybe even make a few cracks at Duke’s expense.

ACC Championships Coverage: Day 1

Whether you’re resting at home, engaging in service work, or drinking one of those fruity concoctions with the little umbrellas in them, check “Pulse of the Fan” all weekend for extensive ACC Tournament coverage.

12:12 AM: If you notice a white tinge on the Greensboro Coliseum court when action resumes tomorrow, don’t fret: that will just be the remnants of the chalk from today’s depressingly predictable, favorite-dominated First Round. Although Clemson engendered some intrigue in the day’s final contest thanks to a series of calamitous Florida State fouls and a few big 3-pointers, their desperate comeback bid faltered when Michael Snaer buried two late free throws to secure the Seminoles’ 73-69 win. Florida State plays North Carolina in the nightcap tomorrow.

Ultimately, the enduring memory Day 1 of the 2013 ACC Championships will involve Boston College freshman Olivier Hanlan’s sublime 41-point effort against Georgia Tech, a virtuoso performance that sets the table for a compelling matchup with ACC Defensive Player of the Year Miami guard Durand Scott tomorrow. On a day marred by errant shooting and scarce suspense, Hanlan’s performance underlined why we all keep tuning in to this crazy game of basketball: the potential to witness the spectacular.

Meanwhile, Virginia faces N.C. State tomorrow with its NCAA Tournament hopes in the balance.

That’s all from Greensboro for tonight. Check this blog and @CavDailySports Friday for live updates!

9:23 PM: In a game with only very mild implications for Virginia, Maryland held Wake Forest to two more field goals than you or I managed in the final 10:02 to storm to a 75-62 victory. Dez Wells scored 21 points for the seventh-seeded Terrapins, who will play No. 2 seed Duke tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Since the chances that Maryland advances to the ACC Championship game, the only round in which it could conceivably face the Cavaliers, remain more remote than the chance that the Mexican and Canadian baseball teams hit the town together at the World Baseball Classic, this game should have little bearing on Virginia’s tournament fate. It does sustain the Terrapins’ faint at-large hopes, but they still will likely need to win the ACC Tournament to get to the big dance.

Clemson and Florida State square off next in the final game of the day.

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7:38 PM: When Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown sprained his left ankle in N.C. State’s Jan. 29 visit to Virginia midway through the first half, the Wolfpack were winning and imposing their up-tempo style on the more rugged, half-court oriented Cavaliers. His absence, however, allowed the Virginia defense to settle in and afforded junior guards Joe Harris and Jontel Evans more room to operate on the perimeter, eventually enabling the Cavaliers to squeeze out a 58-55 victory. Brown rested the bum ankle for the next two games, both of which N.C. State lost. And as a result of that three-game swoon in the middle of the ACC season, the Wolfpack finished 11-7 in the conference—giving Virginia the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament and a first-round bye by virtue of its January victory.

Beating N.C. State and grabbing the fourth seed wielded a two-fold positive impact on Virginia’s postseason prospects. For one thing, it assures that the Cavaliers can clinch an NCAA tournament at-large bid with two wins and vie for one with a single victory, whereas they would have likely needed to win the conference tournament to advance had they dropped the N.C. State game. Secondly, it means a Virginia squad that has struck most observers as lead-legged in its past three games will benefit from extra rest against a Wolfpack team for which each starter logged at least 34 minutes in Thursday’s 80-63 victory against Virginia Tech.

Still, that N.C. State was missing Brown during the first contest raises grave doubts about the Cavaliers’ ability to cope Friday. The Wolfpack, after all, still present troubling matchup problems on the low-post for Virginia and play with an added panache when a healthy Brown—who averages is in as their maestro.
Virginia and head coach Tony Bennett, simply put, will be hard-pressed to attain the victory they require for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Here are the three major storylines that will determine whether the Cavaliers can do the trick.

1. The front-lines

The N.C. State frontcourt presents the closest thing to a nightmare matchup the Cavaliers will see: big, athletic, and ruthlessly physical. All-ACC First Teamer Richard Howell qualifies as the Harry Potter of the Wolfpack’s super trio and will be brimming with confidence after torching the Hokies for 22 points and 12 rebounds on 11-of-13 shooting and providing, as he has all year, the team’s best post defense. C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren are no slouches themselves, combining for 28 points and 12 rebounds and helping the Wolfpack amass a staggering 40 to 25 advantage on the boards against Virginia Tech. Featuring tenacious rebounding, savvy floor spacing and active defensive participation, the N.C. State frontcourt possesses the kind of talent that could spell doom against a smaller, finesse-based front-line such as Virginia’s. Sure enough, they confounded the Cavaliers in the team’s first tilt, with Leslie putting up a monster 20 points and 14 rebounds despite suffering from “Michael Jordan in Game 5”-level illness.

Virginia managed to survive the onslaught thanks to one of freshman forward Mike Tobey’s stronger performances as a Cavalier. Tobey notched 13 points and seven rebounds and supplied the needed brawn to contend with the N.C. State behemoths. As he continues to recover from a bout of mono, Virginia will need another gutsy display from him—or from sophomore forward Darion Atkins or freshman forward Justin Anderson, the team’s best close-out shot-blocking threat—to weather the storm again.

Still, the Cavaliers’ post-defense begins and ends with junior forward Akil Mitchell. Leading the ACC in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions, Mitchell also ranks 11th in the league with 1.2 steals per game—an amazing feat for a big man who spends most of his time guarding the opposition’s biggest player. Additionally, he delivers Virginia’s most consistent offensive production by using his full-throttle, speed-based game to wear down opponents and put up an almost automatic 13-to-18 points per game. Mitchell’s invaluable contributions will matters even more Friday, since N.C. State’s starters could fatigue later in the game and depend heaviliy Thursday on Brown’s rail-line passes to wide-open teammates in the post—passes the vigilant, quick-handed Mitchell will be quick to disrupt.

2. Will the real Joe Harris please stand up?

After Harris eviscerated Duke for 36 points on national television Feb. 28, he was riding such a high and playing so well you would have thought the All-ACC First Team choice had an outside shot at election to the papacy. But while his mystique remains as powerful as ever among Virginia fans, his form has dipped quite dramatically in the three games following that breakout showing against the Blue Devils. Ultra-efficient for most of the season, Harris has shot an abysmal 13-of-44 and averaged just 14.0 points per game in his last three outings. His jump-shot has suffered worst of all, with his 25.0 3-point percentage since Feb. 19 feeding fears that the relentlessly competitive Harris is starting to buckle physically.

Whether Harris’ recent swoon results from tired legs or a mere random slump, Virginia’s most valuable player needs to improve offensively for he and his teammates to outlast a team as dangerous as N.C. State. Too often in the last three games, Virginia’s offense has stalled as players watch Harris miss a long perimeter shot, a tactic which Virginia Tech relied on this year to dreadful results. Although Harris has managed to compensate for some of his shooting woes with aggressive lane penetration, he’ll need to rediscover his tidy 17.0 point per game scoring form in order to counteract the production from Brown and Scott Wood.

3. Road blues

For those hoping Virginia will fare better on a neutral court than it has on the road, consider: in the Cavaliers’ lone neutral-court game thus far, they suffered a loss to lowly Old Dominion that remains the most glaring red flag on their NCAA Tournament at-large resume. Overall, Virginia is 3-9 away from John Paul Jones Arena and will play before a heavily-partisan N.C. State crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum Friday.

Pundits have pointed to sundry explanations for Virginia’s road maladies: an inexperienced roster, a general trend toward home dominance in college basketball, sheer bad luck. Whatever the cause, the cure boils down to the Cavaliers simple need to shoot the ball better. Unless they find the basket at a more efficient clip than the 39.7 field goal shooting percentage they’ve registered in their last three home losses, Bennett’s boys will return to Charlottesville next weekend to host an NIT game. As discussed above, offensive improvement necessitates the return of a potent Harris and continued complementary scoring from Mitchell. Other Cavaliers, however, including sharpshooters freshman Evan Nolte and sophomore Paul Jesperson, will need to throw it in the ocean against an N.C. State defense that yielded open perimeter shots aplenty against Virginia Tech Thursday.

4:49 PM: Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

Me, neither.

For the second consecutive year, N.C. State will meet Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament after the Wolfpack walloped a hapless Virginia Tech 80-63, mercifully ending a humiliating Hokies’ season. And for the second consecutive year, one team’s NCAA Tournament hopes will hang in the balance when N.C. State and Virginia clash—only this time, the Cavaliers are the ones in desperate need of a resume-boosting victory.

Richard Howell led the Wolfpack with 22 points and 11 rebounds, converting several of Lorenzo Brown’s game-high 12 assists into easy lay-ups, dunks and wide-open midrange jumpers. In addition to finishing 11-of-13 from the floor, the All-ACC First Team selection also cemented his triumph over teammate C.J. Leslie as “Best N.C. State Player with a chinstrap beard.” Leslie, Scott Wood and T.J. Warren joined Howell in double figures for a Wolfpack team that outrebounded Virginia Tech 40-25 and outassisted the Hokies 18-10.

Meanwhile, Erick Green—the constructor of virtually all of Virginia Tech’s 13 victories singlehandedly—looked more like a bricklayer in his final collegiate game. The ACC Player of the Year finished 5-of-19 for 15 points, his lowest output since scoring 12 Dec. 29 against BYU. And although Jarell Eddie posted a valiant 21-point effort, Virginia Tech’s dubious shot selection doomed the squad to a woeful 12-of-34 shooting effort in the second half.

Ultimately, discipline proved the distinguishing factor between the two teams; while Brown and Wood orchestrated a crisp if occasionally sloppy offense, most Hokies split their time between watching Eddie and Green operate and running around like Turkeys with their heads cut off on offense and constantly lost focus on defense. As a result, the Cavaliers will have to contend with a disciplined, athletic N.C. State team Friday, one that will have Brown after missing him in a 58-55 Virginia victory in January.

More to come on the Virginia-N.C. State matchup with the next post.

1:58 PM: Greetings from Greensboro! We’ve just arrived at the Coliseum to catch the end of Boston College and Olivier Hanlan’s masterful dismantling of Georgia Tech in the battle of the ACC Tournament’s 8th and 9th seeds, also known as the “Clash Between mediocre ACC squads that both managed to beat Virginia.” Next on the docket is the 5-12 matchup between N.C. State and Virginia Tech, which will of course determine the Cavaliers’ opponent in tomorrow’s quarterfinal bout at 2 p.m. ET. Follow @CavDailySports and this blog for in-depth analysis on today’s games, what Virginia needs to do, and whether the free media food here at the Coliseum meets your Cavalier Daily’s correspondent’s lofty standards.**

Discuss: How will Virginia fare against No. 3 Duke?

**As we move closer to tipoff at JPJ, see below for fan and player reactions as well as updates from @CavDailySports.

Fans storm the court after Virginia takes down Duke.

If you’re not at the game but want to get a glimpse of the atmosphere here at JPJ, below is a video of the players entering for pregame warmups about 30 minutes before tipoff.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Exhale, everybody. After Virginia raced out to a 18-6 lead fueled by a crowd more raucous than the line outside “Marco and Luna’s” at 3 a.m. on a Friday night, No. 3 Duke stormed back to cut the lead to 22-21. The Cavaliers were able to regain their defensive discipline and offensive spark, however, and enjoy a well-deserved 28-23 at the break.

Joe Harris is stating his case for ACC Player of the Year, scoring 15 points and basically carrying the Cavalier offense. Duke’s Mason Plumlee, meanwhile, has struggled defensively and has just 4 points and 4 rebounds at the break.

Both teams have five turnovers at the break and have attempted five free throws. Each are shooting below 30 percent on 3-point attempts.

For Virginia to eke out a victory here, the team will either need a legendary performance for Harris or more output from the other players on the floor. Only Jontel Evans, Akil Mitchell and Paul Jesperson have supplemented him so far.

Meanwhile, they’ll need to hope Duke continues to miss some of the open 3-pointers players have clanked so far and keep Plumlee from reasserting his dominance in the paint.

Keep checking out the blog for live updates below, and as always, check cavalierdaily.com postgame for our full coverage.

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