Cavaliers have weird mix of good wins, bad losses

As the weird and wonderful science of bracketology begins to rear its pointy head, Virginia stands to become an intriguing math project. With a 6-0 record against top-100 teams and an 0-3 mark against teams from the struggling CAA, the Cavaliers might be more unexplainable than crop circles.

Third place in the ACC is usually an automatic ticket to the NCAA tournament, but for Virginia (17-6, 7-3), questions remain about its fitness for an at-large bid. It can be hard to embrace a team with an RPI of 82 and a strength of schedule of 155.

As bracketologists across America try to avoid spontaneous combustion, Virginia can draw on its experience from last year when it was under much scrutiny. After being ranked in the top 20 and considered an NCAA lock, the Cavaliers lost five of their last eight games amid cries they didn't belong in the tournament. Virginia received a No. 10 seed and was blasted by Florida in the opening round 71-45, seemingly justifying the criticism.

Up next
Virginia Tech at Virginia
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where » John Paul Jones Arena,
Charlottesville, Va.

"The key is to be resilient and embrace the challenge," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "I don't know how much last year has to do with it. I just think it's the mindset of this year's team to prepare the best that we can and get after it."

Bennett hopes that's the scenario Tuesday night when Virginia plays host to struggling Virginia Tech (11-12, 2-8), which has lost six straight.

If Virginia continues the way it did last week, there will be no debate about its credentials. After receiving bad news in the form of a mononucleosis diagnosis for 6-foot-11 freshman Mike Tobey, the Cavaliers played arguably their two best games of the year, thrashing Clemson 78-41 on Thursday night and shooting bull's-eyes at Maryland on Sunday afternoon in an 80-69 victory.

The recent surge is odd considering Tobey was ascending rapidly as an inside scorer. In his absence, Virginia has had to use a smaller lineup. But the results have been a revelation.

"Spacing is perhaps a little better," Bennett said. "But you also give up some things in other areas, but that's where the balance and the depth comes in and you can have some different looks."

In the absence of Tobey, 6-6 freshman Justin Anderson has excelled, scoring 31 points last week. With little help inside, 6-8 junior Akil Mitchell has loomed large with 29 points and 10 rebounds. Evan Nolte, a 6-8 freshman, has seen an uptick in his minutes, producing 17 points and 10 boards. And junior Joe Harris had the two most efficient back-to-back games of his career, scoring 43 points on just 18 shots.

Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said there's nothing magical about the new combination, just skilled players thriving with more opportunity.

"It's just a lot of guys playing well right now," Johnson said.