Virginia and Virginia Tech need deep ACC tournament runs

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Virginia plays Wednesday’s second round matchup winner of No. 11 Louisville and No. 14 Georgia Tech with tip-off scheduled for 9:30 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It beat the Yellow Jackets on February 12 during the regular season and beat the Cardinals in their only meeting on Saturday.

“I think it’s a little bit of motivation,” said Cavaliers senior guard Kihei Clark, who is playing in his third ACC tournament after the coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 rate to be scrapped. “The goal is to [NCAA] tournament so we have to snap and buckle up and we have to win four games.

The 7th-seeded Hokies (19-12) are in danger of breaking a school record of four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

They open the tournament Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the winner of No. 10 Clemson and No. 15 North Carolina State in their second visit of the season to the Barclays Center. Virginia Tech played in a tournament there over Thanksgiving, losing to Memphis and Xavier.

The Hokies, who won nine of 11 contestants this week, parted ways with the Wolfpack during the regular season and dropped their only meeting against the Tigers, 63-59, in Saturday’s regular season finals in Clemson, SC

“We didn’t do ourselves any favors on Saturday,” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Young. “I haven’t spoken to him [the players] About [making the NCAA tournament]. You are smart people. I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. It’s always the same to win a Game. I’ve always thought if you start looking down the road, it doesn’t work very well for me.”

A glaring lack of quality wins still leaves the Hokies with a lot of work to do. For example, their best win, based on the NCAA’s NET rankings, came on February 26 in Coral Gables, Fla., against Miami, 71-70.

Virginia Tech, which lost 81-73 to North Carolina in last season’s ACC Quarterfinals, ranks 37th on the NET but is 1-5 against opponents from Quadrant 1, another metric used at the Allocation of places at large is taken into account.

“I think our mindset is that this is a new season,” said Virginia Tech junior guard Hunter Cattoor. “You come into the postseason and whatever happened in the regular season before that doesn’t matter now. Everyone starts 0-0 and just tries to go out there and win the ACC tournament.”

An intriguing component of this year’s bracket is Virginia and Virginia Tech, potentially meeting in the semifinals. The Cavaliers would need to beat No. 3 North Carolina in the quarterfinals while the Hokies would need to upset second-seeded Notre Dame.

Bitter rivals split the regular-season series.

“I’ve had teams that made me feel worse that went on and did really cool things,” said Young, who guided Wofford to five NCAA tournament appearances before joining Virginia Tech in 2019. “I’ve had teams that played really well and hey, this is the tournament. You play badly and the other team will get you.”

The Hokies ended Virginia’s four-game winning streak, the longest this season in the ACC, with a 62-53 triumph on Feb. 14 at Blacksburg’s Cassell Coliseum behind 24 points, eight rebounds and four blocks from forward Keve Aluma, who died on Montag was named second-team All-ACC.

A week before that game, the Cavaliers had made strides in increasing their qualifying for NCAA tournaments by defeating Duke, 69-68, at Cameron Indoor Stadium with sophomore guard Reece Beekman’s three-pointer 1.1 seconds from time.

It was only the second win for Virginia (77th on the NET) at the iconic venue since 1995 and the second of three Quadrant 1 victories this season.

His last win in the first quadrant was on Feb. 19 against the Hurricanes, 74-71, on the road thanks to 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks from forward Jayden Gardner, who was selected as the third All-ACC team.

But back-to-back losses at home to Duke (65-61) and Florida State (64-63) with a three-pointer to the buzzer blunted the little progress the Cavaliers had made in polishing their NCAA tournament standings.

“Who knows exactly what it takes to qualify for an NCAA tournament,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “It’s just about preparing to play and being sharp. Nothing changes. I think it’s just kind of an understanding that there are opportunities out there and you go after them.”

The Cavaliers have won two ACC tournament titles under Bennett, the most recent at Barclays Center in 2018. Last season, they stunned No. 1 Syracuse (72-69) in the quarterfinals on Beekman’s three-pointer, but withdrew the next day because a Virginia player tested positive for coronavirus.

Beekman and Clark are the only starters to have returned from this team. Two of the Cavaliers’ starters this season, Gardner and guard Armaan Franklin, are playing in their first ACC tournament. Gardner is a senior transfer from East Carolina and Franklin is a junior transferred from Indiana.

“There’s always an excitement when you get into the postseason, the regular season ends and yeah it’s been a while since it’s been anything more than that [NCAA tournament] Sowing for us,” said Bennett. “Our boys finished with a 12:8 record [in the ACC]and they improved from the beginning of the season to the end and now it’s important to be as ready as possible.”

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