Just over a month ago, a sports columnist for The Cavalier Daily — who will remain nameless — wrote an article predicting that Virginia men’s basketball would miss the NCAA Tournament. At the time, the conclusion seemed rational, given that the Cavaliers were 12-6, had lost four of their past six and were offensively inept.
However, since that article came out, the situation has changed. Virginia has won seven of its last eight games, and the Cavaliers are now significantly more likely to qualify for this year’s tournament.
One of the key changes that Virginia needed to make was finding a solution to its struggling offense. While the Cavaliers have scored, on average, 62.6 points per game during the recent eight-game stretch — slightly higher than their season average of 57.7 points per game — the biggest improvements have come from junior guard Tomas Woldetensae and sophomore guard Kihei Clark.
Woldetensae has been the offensive spark that Virginia needed this late in the season. In the past eight games, he has scored in double figures five times, including a 27-point outburst in the Cavaliers’ loss to then-No. 5 Louisville.
He has also been Virginia’s savior multiple times as of late. For instance, he drained a last-second three-pointer to beat North Carolina in a crucial game Feb. 15. His ability to be a reliable scorer for Virginia helps open up the offense and forces opposing defenses to spread themselves thin.
In the previous article about Virginia’s potential for March Madness, the previously-referenced author criticized the Cavaliers for relying on Clark to be a dependable scoring threat. However, Clark has proven that he can be a strong scorer. Over the past eight games, he has reached double figures in six matchups.
In one of the two games where he was limited to single digits, he recorded 10 assists to keep the offense humming. His ability to consistently lead the team and facilitate offensive plays has allowed the Cavaliers to remain competitive in games where the offense is stagnating.
With roughly two weeks left in the regular season, ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi has been releasing his projected NCAA Tournament bracket more frequently. In his most recent edition from Monday, he projects Virginia to be in the tournament field, placing as a No. 10 seed. Given his expertise in the area, it is certainly a positive sign that he has moved the Cavaliers back into the field after weeks of having them on the outside looking in.
Virginia currently has a 19-7 overall record and is 11-5 in the ACC — making them the fourth-best in the conference. With four regular season games remaining, the Cavaliers look to break the 20-win threshold that nearly every NCAA Tournament team will have.
However, the road ahead isn’t easy as two of the remaining games are against nationally ranked teams — No. 6 Duke and No. 11 Louisville — and the other two games are on the road against Virginia Tech and Miami. If the Cavaliers can win at least half of these games, they should find themselves in a good position heading into the ACC Tournament.
There are always teams that seem to get hot at the right time of year, and Virginia has been gaining momentum over the past month. If the Cavaliers want to defend their 2019 national championship, they must continue to play well. And, if they do, maybe someone can tell the aforementioned sports columnist about how bad his take ended up being. Maybe I’ll give him a piece of my mind too.