Crazy ACC Basketball season: Why Virginia is still in the hunt
College basketball is down to its last month of the season. Selection Sunday is approaching, and the there’s a ton of uncertainty when trying to predict who’s in and who’s not for this year’s March Madness.
Consider Saturday: nine ranked teams went down in flames, including eight that were beaten by unranked teams.
The big loser over the weekend unquestionably was Louisville. The Cardinals suffered their second straight loss at unranked Clemson 77-62. The game was never close. Louisville fell in Atlanta mid-week to another at best, mediocre team, Georgia Tech.
The Cardinals, leading the ACC a week ago, appear to be heading out of the top-10 landscape and slipping from a number one seed.
Duke is starting to look Duke-like again. After a miracle win last Saturday in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils returned home to Cameron Indoor Stadium and posted two wins this week. Duke held off tough Florida State on Monday and destroyed Notre Dame Saturday.
Which leads us to Virginia. You know the team that is near the bottom of all of the complex offensive analytic statistics, team that consider a shooting percentage of above 40 percent as scorching. The defending national champions. Yep, that’s the team.
About a month ago, Virginia appeared DOA. The Cavaliers had lost three straight, including an ugly loss at Boston College a home loss to Syracuse and a loss in Tallahassee to Florida State.
Virginia was 11-5 and under .500 in league play at 3-4. After a one-game reprieve with a win over Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers found themselves on life support once again after another JPJ loss to NC State. At 12-6 and a dead even 4-4 in the ACC. Not the look of a postseason-bound team. At least not an abbreviated four-letter postseason tournament.
But then the turnaround began at Wake Forest. And it was, as expected in typical UVA style, as the final game stats indicated.
Virginia was 23-of-63 from the floor (36.5%), a mere 8-of-30 from behind-the-arc (26.7%, ugh.) and a putrid 11-of-19 from the foul line.
And still Wake needed a three-point foul committed by the Cavaliers with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to force an extra five minutes of play.
Virginia found its footing, so-to-speak, in OT as it held off Wake for a 65-63 win.
In the Wake Forest contest, Tomas Woldetensae connected on a crucial three-point shot in overtime to put Virginia ahead to stay, as the junior college transfer scored a team-high 21 points.
It’s inaccurate to say that afternoon in Winston Salem launched Woldetensae into an offensive juggernaut; he followed up two days later with an eight-point, one-assist, four-turnover performance against FSU.
But there’s no denying that Woldetensae is slowly becoming the player and the shooter that the UVA coaching staff witnessed in his final season at Indian Hills Community College, where he earned first-team All-America honors, shooting an astonishing 47% from 3-point range.
Good shooters don’t suddenly forget how to shoot. While it’s a given that the level of defense is notched up significantly in the rigors of ACC play, good shooters eventually adjust, they get comfortable, and return to norm.
Anthony Gill, another Virginia transfer (from South Carolina) said for him it was more adjusting to the demands of playing defense under Tony Bennett’s pack-line defensive scheme. Once Gill was comfortable on the defensive end of the floor, his offensive skills were on full display.
Woldetensae has played solid defense since arriving in Charlottesville. That’s an easy observation to make. If he wasn’t, he would not have been getting the minutes – ask Gill how that works.
In his last three road games Woldetensae has made 20 of his 34 three-point shot attempts. That’s even better than his days at Indian Hills.
Maybe it’s simply “the light switch turning on,” or maybe he’s getting used to looking at jerseys that have North Carolina, Louisville, stitched across the front.
Maybe for Woldetensae it’s looking down at the opposing bench and seeing Hall of Fame coaches named Boeheim, Williams and Krzyzewski, and being OK.
For whatever reason, Woldetensae now looks the part. He’s ready. And he’s capable of adding to the craziness of this basketball season.
And Virginia, the defending national champions aren’t near ready to be kicked to the curb.
Story by Scott German