2014 NCAA tournament: No. 1 seed Virginia has plenty of company among area teams

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Of all the advice Tony Bennett received from his father, Dick, upon accepting the job as Virginia’s coach in 2009, he found it easy to remember one particular adage on Sunday.

“[Building a team] starts with the kind of character that you recruit, and I kid you not – that is the difference,” Bennett said. “My father kind of grabbed me and said, ‘Do not take a shortcut on character when you rebuild this. You might be able to do it faster, but don’t take that shortcut.’”

Behind a nucleus that included senior guard Joe Harris and senior forward Akil Mitchell, Virginia won its first ACC tournament title in 38 years on Sunday with a 72-63 victory over Duke. Then, hours later, the Cavaliers were given a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, joining overall top seed Florida, Arizona and Wichita State atop the regional brackets.

The Cavaliers (28-6, 16-2 ACC), who were last a No. 1 seed when the tournament had 52 teams in 1983, will open tournament play in the East Region with a game against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina, the Big South champion, in Raleigh, N.C. on Friday.

In all, five area teams who qualified for the tournament: Virginia, Atlantic-10 runner-up VCU and semifinalist George Washington, Patriot League champion American and NEC champion Mount St. Mary’s.

Should Virginia avoid becoming the first team to lose to a No. 16 seed, it could play George Washington in the following round. The Colonials, a No. 9 seed, will also open tournament play on Friday in Raleigh with a game against No. 8 seed Memphis.

“It’s a rewarding feeling,” said George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, who is in his third season. “I’d come in here a couple years ago, to this room [at the Smith Center], before our games when we were 10-21, and I just told people to just hang in there, that we were going to do it right. Sometimes, when you do things the right way, it takes a little longer. But I’m very happy for our players. They bought in to what we’re trying to do here, and they worked very, very hard.”

The Colonials (24-8, 11-5 Atlantic-10) are making their first tournament appearance since 2007, when they lost to Vanderbilt in the first round. It will be their 11th appearance overall; they advanced as far as the Sweet 16 in 1993, when they lost to eventual champion Michigan and the group known as the “Fab Five.”

VCU, which defeated George Washington 74-55 in the Atlantic-10 semifinals on Saturday, will make its fourth consecutive tournament appearance and sixth in the last seven years far from home.

The Rams (26-8, 12-4 Atlantic-10), who lost 65-61 to St. Joseph’s in the Atlantic-10 championship game earlier Sunday, were selected as the No. 5 seed in the South Region and will play No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin in San Diego on Friday.

American, in its first year under coach Mike Brennan, was slotted as a No. 15 seed in the West Region and will face No. 2 Wisconsin in Milwaukee its first game on Thursday. The Eagles (20-12, 13-5 Patriot) defeated Boston University, 55-36, in the Patriot League final on Wednesday and will be making their first appearance in the tournament since 2009.

Perhaps the most unlikely of all area tournament qualifiers is Mount St. Mary’s, which won its conference title on Tuesday. The Mountaineers (16-16, 9-7 NEC) will begin their first foray into the NCAA tournament since 2008 with a First Four game against Albany on Tuesday, and the winner will face Floridaon Thursday in Orlando.

Neither Maryland (17-15, 9-9 ACC) nor Georgetown (17-14, 8-10 Big East) were selected to play in the tournament, marking the first time the two teams both missed the tournament since 2005.

Louisville, last year’s national champion, was given a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region and will begin play Thursday against No. 13 Manhattan in Orlando. The seeding of the Cardinals, who were considered a possible No. 2 seed after plowing through The American tournament, was perhaps the most controversial of all decisions made by the selection committee.

The three other teams from the fledgling conference – Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis – were all put into the East Region. Michigan, considered the fourth No. 1 seed before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, fell to No. 2 in the Midwest. And Florida State, SMU and Green Bay, which defeated Virginia at home on Dec. 7, were not selected.

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