After falling short in its upset bid against then-No. 7 North Carolina, the No. 24 Virginia men's basketball team faces off against No. 22 Florida State tonight for its final home game of the season and Senior Night.
Tonight's game is especially notable for the Cavaliers' seniors who have never made it to the NCAA Tournament before. They know a win could prove vital in securing a spot in March Madness.
"Those guys, particularly, have not really tasted success in their time here," coach Tony Bennett said. "There's been incremental and slow progress. I know they have said it before, they want to leave the program in a really good spot. Their desire to finish strong and hopefully push us into postseason play would really be a great thing for them, and that's why going into senior night we play with the right passion and focus, and all of the things needed to be successful."
Virginia last appeared in the Tournament during the 2006-07 season, before redshirt-senior forward Mike Scott, senior guard Sammy Zeglinski and senior center Assane Sene arrived at Virginia. The team has improved each season since 2008-09, when the Cavaliers went 10-18, 4-12 in the ACC, and this year's team has already matched the 2006-07 win total of 21 games - its most wins in a season since 1995. Now the team sits on the verge of postseason play but still seeks a signature ACC win to help guarantee a good Selection Sunday.
The Cavaliers (21-7, ACC 8-6) came within three points of sealing that marquee victory against the Tar Heels Saturday, but Scott's season-worst performance and the team's poor shooting late in the game proved fatal.
Virginia struggled with North Carolina's size, as the Tar Heels' starters' average height is 6-foot-8 against Virginia's 6-foot-4. The Cavaliers' roster has been decidedly undersized since a Jan. 19 ankle injury sidelined the 7-foot Sene. Sene was originally projected to return to the lineup this week, but his recovery from the fractured ankle has been slow, and he will likely not be ready to play until after next week's ACC Tournament.
Without Sene, it looks like height may be a problem against the Seminoles (19-9, 10-4 ACC), whose starters come in at an average of 6-foot-7. Florida State's big men loomed large during Virginia's tight 58-55 loss at Tallahassee Feb. 4. Sophomore forward Okaro White and senior center Xavier Gibson posted 13 and 10 points, respectively, during that game, and Virginia anticipate a similar effort from them tonight.
"They're probably even going to play us harder, so we have to come in, not have our heads down because we lost to UNC," freshman forward Darion Atkins said. "...Personally I think that we have to come in and battle and box out more because they