"Honestly, if we play like this, we don't deserve to get in," point guard Jontel Evans said after North Carolina State punished Virginia 75-56 in an ACC tournament quarterfinal at Greensboro Coliseum.
Indeed, on this day the Cavaliers gave the NCAA selection committee no reason to consider them bracket-worthy. They shot, rebounded and defended poorly, a trifecta rarely seen from coach Tony Bennett's squad.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Teel Time: ACC tournament memories of Lefty, Jimmy V, and my bride
- Teel Time: N.C. State finding its 'groove' in ACC tournament
- ACC All Access: Virginia's shooters struggle, contribute to it being "the most interesting bubble team in the world"
- College Basketball
- Virginia Cavaliers
See more topics »
Most troubling and unusual: the defense. The Wolfpack scored 20 more points than the average Virginia opponent and more than anyone against the Cavaliers this season except North Carolina (93).
"Our identity's our defense," Evans said. "When we don't play defense, and when we're missing shots, we get blown out of the water like that."
Virginia shot 38.9 percent overall, 25 from beyond the 3-point arc, and with State owning the glass, coach Mark Gottfried's bunch was able to quicken the pace beyond the Cavaliers' comfort and saddle them with their most-lopsided defeat of the season.
"Our transition defense was not acceptable today," Evans said. "I don't know what we were doing. We (weren't) communicating. … That's not us at all. You guys have seen us before. We're a team that locks down on the defensive end, and today they just had their way with us."
Evans is spot-on. While the Cavaliers contested many of Scott Wood's seven 3-pointers, they often neglected to slow the Wolfpack's fast break.
State point guard Lorenzo Brown struggled with his shot, but he assisted on six buckets and committed only one turnover. The primary beneficiary was freshman T.J. Warren, who made 9-of-11 shots and scored 18 points, 15 more than he managed in a 58-55 loss at Virginia in January.
Brown played only 10 minutes in that game, missing the final 30 after rolling his ankle midway through the first half. Friday he logged 36 minutes.
"In Charlottesville we kept them to a half-court game, and that's our style of play," Virginia wing Justin Anderson said. "With (Brown) in, he's such a threat in transition and the half court."
Said Evans: "He's the heart of their team. He gets them going, and you (saw) it today. He just runs that offense, and they feed off his energy."
State's Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie bulled their way to 23 combined rebounds, pounding every Virginia frontcourt player other than Akil Mitchell. Wood, meanwhile, hit threes despite some blanket coverage by Joe Harris and Paul Jesperson.
"Going against Scott Wood tonight was kind of like getting a taste of our own medicine with what we do to other people with Joe Harris," Anderson said. "If they have just a smidgen of room and they can get it off, and they're feelin' it, it's over. It's going to be a long night. Ray Allen, those guys, all they need is a smidgen of room."
The defeat sends Virginia (21-11) home before the ACC semifinals for the 18th consecutive year, the longest such drought in conference history. By comparison, each of the league's other 11 programs have reached the semis since 2006.
The Cavaliers' last Saturday appearance at this event was 1995, and that team advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. Virginia has won a single NCAA tournament game since, in 2007, and at this stage, even making the field would surprise.
Not to suggest the Cavaliers have no chance. Victories over NCAA locks such as Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wisconsin assure the selection committee will dissect their credentials.
"If we play like we did against Duke and all those other teams … then we belong," Evans said.
But were there enough Duke-like performances? Given Virginia's seven losses to teams below 100th on the Rating Percentage Index and a dreary non-conference schedule strength of 303, the guess here is no and that the Cavaliers are relegated to the NIT.
That said, few marginal teams nationally are making a compelling case for inclusion.
"We've had some big wins, we've had some terrible (losses), too, as everyone keeps bringing up," Anderson said. "Whatever chance we get, we're going to make the most of it."
The Cavaliers had a chance Friday to state their NCAA case. They failed badly.