Correction (March 3): A previous version of this blog referred to a different tournament in the first paragraph.
Craig Littlepage didn’t disagree with me Wednesday when I floated “22″ as the magic number for Virginia’s men’s basketball team to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Littlepage, the UVa athletic director, is something of an authority on the subject, having served as chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee in 2006. What he did remind me Wednesday is that Virginia’s accomplishments aren’t the sole issue here.
“A factor for any perceived ‘bubble’ team is what happens in the one-bid leagues or the two-bid leagues,” Littlepage said. “An upset winner, all of a sudden, from the West Coast Conference — or you could name another non-BCS Conference — does that take up an additional at-large spot?”
One of the questions surrounding Virginia and its NCAA Tournament credentials is the three games it lost before Christmas to teams from the Colonial Athletic Association — George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion. Senior point guard Jontel Evans, a veteran of 70 career starts going into this season, missed all three of those games while rehabbing a surgically repaired foot.
“We’ve had some good wins against teams that are probably going to be in at-large consideration — [North] Carolina and N.C. State I particular — but the reality is, we had a number of games early in the season where we weren’t 100 percent in terms of Jontel’s situation and later with Darion [Atkins] and Mike Tobey,” Littlepage said. “Those are outcomes that are taken into consideration and there’s no way to quantify what that means for each of 10 different committee people, but certainly that’s something that’s taken into consideration. I think we’ve done enough to be in that grouping of schools that’s going to be discussed.”
Littlepage said situations like the Evans injury were considered during his time on the committee.
“It’s hard to say how it’s been judged,” said Littlepage of the period that has followed his tenure. “Circumstances can be a consideration and there’s no clear definition of what ‘consideration’ means.
“There’s certainly no quantifiable measurement. But, if you’ve lost a game on the road against a team with a questionable RPI, [Evans' absence] might be discussed as an explanation for something that otherwise might not be clearly understandable.”
Going into tonight’s home game with No. 3 Duke, Virginia’s only victory over a ranked team was against then-No. 19 North Carolina State at John Paul Jones Arena. Since then, early season Cavaliers’ victim Wisconsin has moved into the Top 25 and currently ranks 16th.
Another recent development is the late-season push of a University of Tennessee squad that the Cavaliers defeated 46-38 in December. The Vols are on a six-game winning streak that includes road wins at South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Texas, as well as home wins over Kentucky and Florida.
Regardless of whether Virginia beats Duke tonight, consider what the Cavaliers would have to do to get to 22 wins: They’d have to get three more wins out of a remaining schedule that includes Boston College and Florida State on the road and Maryland at home, followed by at least one game in the ACC Tournament, where UVa is 4-18 since 1995.
Maryland is probably the best bet for one win, given that the Cavaliers won in College Park, Md., earlier this season, but UVa hasn’t won in Tallahassee, Fla., since 2001 and is 1-3 in four previous trips to Chestnut Hill, Mass.
“A lot of it is conjecture at this point in time,” Littlepage said, “and four games is an eternity for those teams that aren’t Top 25 or 30 in the country.”