On the eve of last year’s ACC Tournament meeting between fourth-seeded Virginia and fifth-seeded North Carolina State, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried took great pains to promote his team for an NCAA bid, clearly at the Cavaliers’ expense.
With the Cavaliers and Wolfpack carrying the same seedings going into their quarterfinal match-up Friday at 2 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum, Gottfried is adopting a much more conciliatory tone.
Maybe that’s because the Wolfpack (23-9) are considered a lock for the NCAA field.
Many of the so-called bracketologists think the Cavaliers (21-10) need at least one more victory because of three losses during UVa’s non-conference schedule, which was perceived as week from the beginning.
“First of all, I think the ‘they-have-to-win-one-game’ theory is not actually true,” said Gottfried following an 80-63 victory over Virginia Tech. “I think it’s fun for everybody in the country. There’s 25 teams, it sounds like on television, if they win that one game, they’re going to get in the tournament.
“You keep hearing that. Well, that’s not actually true. There’s so many things that go into. I think we’re an NCAA Tournament team. I think Virginia is. I really do. I think they deserve to be in the tournament.”
Gottfried indicated that the Wolfpack may have had extra motivation last year.
“Now, last year was a little different,” he said. “You’ve got to remember. We were 5-7 at one point in the league [in 2011-2012]. And, we had to win to four straight to get in. And, we really needed to turn around the perception probably more than Virginia does right now.
“We had a steeper hill to climb. For us, every opportunity we had was life or death. I don’t think they’re in that situation. I really don’t.”
Both Virginia and State are 11-7 in the league. No UVa team since 1972 has finished four games over .500 in the ACC and not made the NCAA Tournament, and that was at a time when only the conference tournament winner got an NCAA bid.
In fact, this is only the seventh time in 41 years that UVa has finished four games over .500 and the fourth time since 1983. In fact, UVa has made the NCAA field three times (1984, 1990, 1991, 1997) with a losing record and twice (1986, 1994) with a .500 mark.
UVa also had a losing conference record (4-8) in 1976, when it won the ACC Tournament and received an automatic NCAA bid.
“Everybody knows it’s there,” said UVa coach Tony Bennett of the NCAA Tournament possibilities. “How we got to this point is playing quality ball.”
Virginia’s was in everybody’s bracket when it beat No. 3 Duke 73-68, but then the Cavaliers lost road games at the wire to Boston College (53-52) and Florida State (53-51).
“Everybody says that this game [or that game] would be a bad loss,” Bennett said, “and, if you start getting your eyes too much on that stuff, I think it will affect you.
“That’s not been our away. Human nature will make you aware of it, but then put on the blinders.”