The Wahoos were knocked off by Florida State 69-59.
While the result is an upset (Virginia was favored by 8.5 points at tip off), Leonard Hamilton’s team is no Cinderella story. With 27 wins on the year, the Seminoles already were a No. 3 seed in CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm’s NCAA Tournament bracket projection entering the game and are playing some of their best basketball of the year. Losing to Florida State on a neutral floor does not count as a bad loss for Virginia or anyone, but it does feed the narrative that the Wahoos are prone to falling short in the postseason.
It didn’t help that Virginia was back in the building where it lost to UMBC in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, or that for about 60 of its 80 minutes of action, the team’s performance did not match the urgency or intensity of its opponent. A cool and calm Tony Bennett chatted with his team in the final 90 seconds, trailing by nine, as if trailing for nearly the entire game was part of the plan. Florida State wasn’t going to be denied though, still riding the fire it showed from the opening tip. The Seminoles have a deep and athletic rotation, and they swarmed all over Virginia, forcing tough shots and winning battles on the glass.
“They were just the tougher team tonight. More physical tonight,” Virginia guard Ty Jerome said.
Bennett continued to reiterate that theme: that Florida State brought a toughness and physicality that Virginia was not able to match. Sometimes it’s good, he said, to be reminded that you can’t always rely on being able to storm back and overcome deficits. Virginia has lost just six games in the last two years, so the habits this group has formed usually involve being able to overcome subpar performances and still emerge victorious.
“These guys have been amazing all year and we have always found ways to pull it out,” Bennett said. “And sometimes that’s a good reminder when you can’t pull it out, we got to tighten the screws in other areas and be ready. But hat’s off to Florida State. That’s a well-coached, good team.”
A couple flat games in the ACC Tournament shouldn’t be enough to totally sell your Virginia stock, and it’s worth noting the Cavaliers won the conference tourney last season. Still, it’s tough to blame someone for feeling uneasy in picking Virginia, knowing history’s tendency to repeat itself. With that said, bracketology expert Palm says the Cavaliers’ seeding should remain strong.
“Virginia’s loss to Florida State means the Cavaliers will not get another shot at avenging their losses to Duke or beating North Carolina again,” Palm said. “However, it will not knock them off the top line of the bracket. Virginia will still be a No. 1 seed and still be seeded ahead of Gonzaga. The overall No. 1 may be in doubt, though, based on comments from selection committee chairman Bernard Muir on CBS Sports Network this afternoon. It is possible that if Duke wins the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils could be the overall No. 1 seed.”
Florida State does not have the NBA talent of Duke, the only other team to beat Virginia this season, but it does have the length to bother the Wahoos inside in the same way Zion Williamson was able to in both of the Blue Devils’ wins. If there’s any blueprint to beating Virginia that we can take away from this result, it’s that you need both size and the ability to penetrate and finish strong at the rim. That, and hope that somehow one of the best defensive teams in the country has an off-night.
Virginia has only been to the Final Four twice in program history, in 1981 and 1984, and reached the Elite Eight only once (2016) in the last 20 years. The frustrations and disappointments of early tournament exits weigh heavy on a fan base that is quite ready to see the narratives be reversed. They are tired of hearing that UVA’s style of basketball isn’t “fun to watch” and very, very tired of hearing about UMBC.