Florida St.-Virginia Preview
An advantageous portion of the schedule helped Virginia thrive during Justin Anderson's absence, but it won't get the luxury of facing subpar competition for much of the rest of the season.
The third-ranked and top-seeded Cavaliers are optimistic their second-leading scorer and one of the ACC's top 3-point shooters can return during their drive to a second straight conference tournament title, which begins Thursday against Florida State.
Virginia lost Anderson to a broken finger in a 52-47 win against then-No. 9 Louisville on Feb. 7, and he then had an appendectomy last Thursday. The Cavaliers (28-2, 16-2) went 7-1 without their junior guard, who is averaging 13.4 points and shooting 48.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Virginia averaged 59.9 points in Anderson's absence - 7.7 fewer than in its first 22 games - and shot 31.5 percent on 3-pointers after connecting at 37.8 with its all-ACC performer.
"(Anderson) makes just a big play, whether it's a huge block or a big 3 that he's done for us or comes up with that hustle play that seems to ignite the team. He has that ability," coach Tony Bennett said. "I think we missed that a little bit. I think the guys that have stepped in and filled in have done a great job."
The Cavaliers overcame that by displaying their trademark stinginess with Anderson out, allowing 49.3 points per game. They also faced just two teams that finished above .500 in the conference en route to a second straight regular-season title and lost 59-57 to one of those, then-No. 16 Louisville, on Saturday.
Bennett said Anderson might have been ready to return in that game before having his appendix removed.
"I'm hopeful he's going to play if not the ACC tournament then the NCAA Tournament," Bennett said.
The Cavaliers would face No. 14 Louisville again in Friday's semifinals if the Cardinals get past 19th-ranked North Carolina on Thursday. The championship game and the chance to wrap up a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament might be a matchup with No. 2 Duke or No. 11 Notre Dame.
Duke was the other team to beat the Cavaliers, 69-63 on Jan. 31.
First, Virginia will have to earn a fifth straight win over ninth-seeded Florida State (17-15), a team it beat 64-51 in last year's quarterfinals on the way to its first tournament title since 1976 and second overall.
The Cavaliers topped the visiting Seminoles 51-41 on Feb. 22 and held them without a field goal for the final 10:32. That loss was part of a season high-tying three-game skid for Florida State, but it enters this matchup having earned back-to-back victories.
The Seminoles had one of their better shooting performances (54.5 percent) in their tournament opener Wednesday against Clemson but nearly squandered a 20-point lead in the final nine minutes in a 76-73 victory.
"I'm not going to be concerned," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I'm just glad we won and move on. That's the way the game of basketball is; it's a chess match."
Xavier Rathan-Mayes had 30 points and hit five 3-pointers. The freshman guard is averaging 20.3 in his last seven games - 6.9 more than in his first 24 - and matched a career high with 35 in an 81-77 loss to Miami on Feb. 25.
He was held to 13 on 5-of-15 shooting against Virginia.
Hamilton needs one more win for a school-record 237, but Florida State has lost its last four against top-five opponents.