CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Even after seeing its 13-game winning streak end in an overtime loss to Maryland in its regular-season finale, Virginia heads to the ACC tournament as the top seed.
On one hand, that would seem to make the sixth-ranked Cavaliers the favorites to cut down the nets at Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina. But on the other hand: Virginia hasn't won the ACC tournament in 38 years, hasn't so much as reached the semifinals since 1995 and has lost 18 of its last 22 in tourney play heading into Friday's quarterfinal matchup with No. 9 seed Florida State.It's not just opponents the Cavaliers (25-6) have to overcome, but history, too. That's why several players said the loss Sunday may have come at the right time."I hate calling losses good losses, but if there's ever a time to have a good loss, this might have been the best one," forward Akil Mitchell said before Virginia practiced Tuesday.Guard Malcolm Brogdon said it was a "little bit of a wake-up call" for Virginia."We were living on a high a little bit," said Brogdon, Virginia's scoring leader with a 12.6 average and No. 2 rebounder (5.6). "We hadn't lost in a while and it's good when you're humbled right before do-or-die time."Brogdon, who made the All-ACC second team, believes the Cavaliers earned respect by matching the league record of 16 victories in a season, but added: "I do not feel like the favorite at all. ... I always feel like my team is underestimated regardless of what we do, what we accomplish. It's good. It keeps you humble. It keeps you hungry."And, the Cavaliers hope, also keeps them focused in their bid to buck history."All the guys here are underdogs and we all have underdog mentalities, and for teams to be excited to play us means we just have to bring it. Our margin for error is much smaller now," Mitchell said."I feel like every guy in this locker room, every guy on this team feels like we have a chance to win when we're playing our style of basketball and doing it the right way," he said.That way starts with defense. Virginia led the nation in the regular season by holding teams to 55.4 points per game and won 12 league games by 10 points or more. It's only other ACC loss was 69-65 at Duke, a game decided in the final seconds.Tony Bennett, named the ACC's coach of the year Tuesday, has lost four straight tournament games since the Cavaliers beat Boston College four years ago, and wants to see that drought end."You're not going to change who you are, but you really want to play well in this and advance," Bennett said. "That's kind of the challenge that's in front of us, that we haven't gone on in this."So, too, does Joe Harris, who along with fellow senior Mitchell gets his last crack at winning a game in the tournament, and maybe a chance at ending another long drought in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers' outright ACC title was their first since 1980-81.Harris, though, was quick to halt any trophy talk just yet."I'm more concerned with getting past the first round," he said.Virginia's first matchup comes against the Seminoles (19-12), who beat Maryland 67-65 in the second round Thursday on sophomore center Boris Bojanovsky's dunk with 0.4 seconds left.That basket capped a tense final 2 minutes that saw Maryland fight back from an 11-point deficit and twice tie it. Ian Miller scored 17 points and Bojanovsky added 12 with a career-high 12 rebounds for his first double-double with Florida State, which has won three of four.The Seminoles likely kept alive their NCAA tournament hopes but remain on the bubble.Florida State lost a pair of meetings with Virginia in January, averaging 58.0 points and shooting 37.8 percent. It went 2-4 against ranked teams in the regular season, beating VCU in November and Massachusetts in December."I think Virginia is a great team and I've got a lot of respect for them," Miller said. "But in the beginning of the season, I think we were very young minded and didn't understand how to be patient against them. You can't really play how we just want to go."You've got to really take your time and really mentally prepare for it rather than just physically go out there and play. We want to just go back tonight and get some treatment and watch some film and get ready to play them."