GREENSBORO, N.C. — As Virginia's players and coaches gathered Sunday evening to watch the NCAA tournament selection show, coach Tony Bennett warned his players he thought the Cavaliers were on the "outside looking in" at the tournament field.
He was right on with his prediction. Instead, U.Va. (21-11) will host Norfolk State 9 p.m. Tuesday in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
"Yeah, we would've loved a chance to play in the NCAA tournament," said Bennett, whose team was selected to be a No. 1 seed in the NIT along with Alabama, Kentucky and Southern Mississippi. "I told our guys, 'If we have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, we'll be thankful for that. If not, we'll be very thankful to play in the NIT.'
"(Norfolk State) coach (Anthony) Evans has done a great job. I really respect what he's done over the years. When you go [16-0] in your conference, that's impressive."
Norfolk State (21-11) did indeed go undefeated in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference during the regular season, but it lost in its first game in the conference tournament. U.Va. lost Friday to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
U.Va.'s last game against Norfolk State was in December 2010 in Charlottesville. U.Va. was fortunate to escape with a 50-49 win on a late tip-in.
It'll be U.Va.'s 13th appearance in the NIT. It last appeared in the NIT in 2006, when it lost to Stanford in the first round.
The winner of the Norfolk State-U.Va. game will move on to play the winner of the St. Joseph's-St. John's game. If U.Va. beats Norfolk State, the Cavaliers will have the right host a second round game since they are a No. 1 seed.
As a No. 1 seed, U.Va. would have the right to host games in the NIT through the quarterfinal round. The semifinals and championship are in New York City in Madison Square Garden.
U.Va.'s inconsistencies on the road, losses to teams with much less talent, a weak non-conference schedule and poor finish through the ACC tournament ended up being its undoing in the eyes of the NCAA tournament committee.
Though U.Va. had a solid 4-3 record against Ratings Percentage Index top 50 teams, and an 8-4 mark against the RPI top 100, it had seven losses to teams rated 113th or worse in the RPI.
Some of U.Va.'s most damaging shortcomings came in a trio of losses to Colonial Athletic Association opponents — at home to Delaware (141st in RPI; U.Va.'s only home loss of the season), on the road against George Mason (163rd in RPI) and in Richmond against Old Dominion (319th in RPI).
U.Va. is 18-1 at home, and it's currently enjoying a 17-game home winning streak, but it's just 3-10 away from John Paul Jones Arena. U.Va. had a non-conference slate rated 303rd in strength of schedule out of 347 Division I teams.
After beating No. 3 Duke 73-68 on Feb. 28, U.Va. went on to lose three of its last four games. While the Duke win was U.Va.'s most impressive victory of the season, U.Va. has had wins at Wisconsin and at home against North Carolina and N.C. State.
"We had a chance to probably secure (an NCAA tournament bid), but we didn't get it done down the stretch," Bennett said.