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Trouble on the bubble for Virginia

Virginia coach Tony Bennett directs his team against North Carolina State. (Associated Press)
Virginia coach Tony Bennett directs his team against North Carolina State. (Associated Press)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Tony Bennett, the Virginia men’s basketball coach, said someone had mentioned to him that his was “the Don Equis” of this March – “the most interesting team on the bubble.”

It’s an apt description. Virginia went 11-7 in ACC regular-season play, which is good; it also went 0-3 against teams from the Colonial Athletic Association in preconference play, which is hard for a winning ACC team to do. On Dec. 22, the Cavaliers did something only four schools managed this season – it lost to Old Dominion, which would finish 5-25.

And yet: On Feb. 28, Virginia beat Duke. The Cavs also defeated North Carolina and N.C. State.

Said Bennett: “We’ve had some really good wins, and we’ve had some really bad losses.”

It was believed that another Virginia victory over N.C. State on Friday would put the Cavs over the top, NCAA-inclusion- wise. Instead they lost by 19 points, and it’s a good thing the NCAA committee doesn’t consider margin of victory/defeat. Otherwise UVA would be out. As it is, it’s hanging by a thread.

Virginia has lost four of five and six of nine, and how a team is playing at the moment is something the committee notices. As of Friday morning, Joe Lunardi of ESPN had the Cavs among his field of 68. After they crashed out of the ACC tournament without winning a game, they also dropped from Lunardi’s bracket.

No, it’s not easy to win 21 games and enter the ACC tournament as the No. 4 seed and still miss the Big Dance, but Virginia could. (It slipped in as a No. 10 seed with 22 victories last season after losing to N.C. State in the same 4-versus-5 game. Then it got creamed by Florida.) At least Lunardi lists UVA among his “first five out.”

To his credit, Bennett was able to smile when he recalled the Dos Equis line. He even cracked a little joke: “I guess that means we have to stay thirsty.”

• In Friday’s game, Scott Wood had 23 points and seven 3-pointers to help the Wolfpack beat the Cavaliers 75-56.

C.J. Leslie added 17 points and 11 rebounds with three blocks for fifth-seeded N.C. State (24-9), who blew the game open after halftime and led by double digits nearly the entire second half against Virginia (21-11).

N.C. State also got strong performances from freshman T.J. Warren with 18 points and senior Richard Howell with 12 rebounds.

The Wolfpack avenged a regular-season loss to Virginia that started a three-game skid, which all but took the preseason ACC favorite out of the regular-season title chase. Now N.C. State is back in the semifinals and has a matchup today with No. 9-ranked Miami, the tournament’s top seed.