In 2011, the NCAA Tournament expanded its field of teams from 65 to 68, creating four play-in games that they dubbed “The First Four.”
When Virginia plays Florida State in Tallahassee on Thursday night, it will, in essence, be participating in a play-in game of its own.
A win over the Seminoles, coupled with a season-ending victory over Maryland on Sunday, would give the Cavaliers’ a legitimate chance at making their second straight Big Dance.
A loss and Virginia would probably need to string together wins in next week’s ACC Tournament in order to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Lately, the Sunshine State hasn’t been a cheery place for Virginia. UVa has lost its last 16 games in the state of Florida and has not won a game in Tallahassee since a game-winning basket by Roger Mason Jr. way back in 2001.
Virginia (20-9, 10-6), which currently sits in a fourth-place tie with N.C. State in the ACC, is a remarkable 17-1 at home this season but only 3-7 away from John Paul Jones Arena. That road ledger includes a loss at Boston College on Sunday that has put the Wahoos in their present predicament.
“You don’t have what you have here [at JPJ] with the emotion of the crowd pushing you on,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “It’s got to be generated [from] within...
“Everybody’s got to be clicking on all cylinders to get a victory on the road — or the majority of your team. If something’s off, it becomes more difficult.”
Several things were off against BC. Leading scorer Joe Harris was not himself and Virginia had defensive lapses late.
Reeling Florida State (15-14, 7-9), which has lost five of its last seven games, will be a different kind of test.
Since the Seminoles play with more of a traditional-sized lineup, the Cavaliers may not be able to get away with the “small-ball” they’ve been playing lately. If that’s the case, Bennett says he hopes to utilize freshman center Mike Tobey more than he has recently.
“They have to match up with you, you’ve got to match up with them, kind of whatever’s working,” Bennett said. “But I’d like to get some more time for [Tobey]...he does bring a threat offensively on the blocks or even facing a little bit.”
Bennett was noncommittal when asked if forward Darion Atkins, who has missed the last three games with shin splints and has only been practicing in small doses, would play.
“We’ll see,” Bennett said. “He had an X-ray the other day and it looked better yet, so it’s really healing. Now I think it’s based on what he can handle. He’s gradually increasing his load in practice...
“I told him I won’t put him out there unless he’s closer to being able to push off, run harder and to help the team.”
Offensively, Bennett says he need all hands on deck for the stretch run of the season. The team can’t just rely on Harris and Akil Mitchell as it has tended to over the last few weeks.
“If we can get some contributions from some of the other guys,” he said, “that balances it out and helps.”
Florida State forward Terrance Shannon, who had to be carried off the court with a neck injury in the game between the teams at JPJ on Jan. 19 — a 56-36 UVa win — returned to the lineup in the Seminoles’ loss at UNC on Sunday. He had missed 11 games...Bennett revealed that redshirting sophomore Malcolm Brogdon has been able to practice in stints. “In stretches, he’s looked good,” Bennett said. “There’s days that he’ll have to take off, we’re building it up slowly, but I’m just thankful that he’s out there and I know how encouraged he is when he can do some of the limited things that he does. It’s been a long time. I think we’ve been as patient as we can. I think it’s been smart. Now he’ll have three years to attack this thing.”