Virginia faces another ‘must-win’ situation on Senior Night vs. Georgia Tech

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Heading into Saturday night’s final regular-season game, bracketologists forecast Virginia as the last team to put on its dancing shoes.

The mission is clear-cut for the Cavaliers when they host Georgia Tech on UVA’s Senior Night (8 p.m., ACC Network): win and stay alive for a bid to the NCAA Tournament; lose, and miss the dance.

While history may be on Virginia’s side against the Yellow Jackets, this one might not be a cakewalk. Georgia Tech (14-16, 7-12 and tied for 11th place in the ACC) was up by 11 on the Cavaliers in the first meeting in Atlanta before UVA went on a 22-3 run.

Virginia (21-9, 12-7 and third in the conference) has beaten Tech 11-straight times (nine in a row at John Paul Jones Arena) and in 19 of the last 21 meetings.

Still, this is a dangerous Tech team that has won three games in 10 days, having beaten Miami, Florida State and Wake Forest within that span. The Yellow Jackets have also beaten North Carolina and Duke this season, something Virginia couldn’t do.

Tech’s recent upset win over Wake Forest has at least temporarily knocked the Deacons out of contention for an NCAA bid, and the Jackets would like nothing better than to spoil UVA’s chances as well.

Some observers believe Virginia must beat Georgia Tech and still win a quarterfinal round game in next week’s ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C., in order to make the NCAA’s 68-team field.

The fact that UVA simply doesn’t lose on Senior Night certainly weighs in the Cavaliers’ favor. Going back to 2012, the Wahoos have lost only once in their farwell to seniors: two seasons ago when Florida State’s Matthew Cleveland drilled a buzzer-beating, 3-pointer to stun a packed house at JPJ.

On Saturday, Virginia will salute four players: Reece Beekman, Jordan Minor, Jake Groves and Tristan How. Beekman will draw the loudest roars. The senior point guard has had an outstanding final year, is a shoo-in to repeat as ACC Defensive Player of the Year, but has also had a solid offensive season, averaging 14.1 points and 5.9 assists per game.

Beekman has put the team on his shoulders and taken over games throughout the season to help lead the Cavaliers to another successful season.

Virginia has lost four of its last six games, but has had a week to recover from a beating at Duke, another game when the Cavaliers failed to score 50 points.

That wasn’t the case in the first meeting with the Yellow Jackets, when Beekman scored 19 points and sophomore sharpshooter Isaac McKneely put up 20.

Georgia Tech has had its own struggles, having gone only 3-6 in ACC road games.

The Jackets have leaned heavily on a pair of freshmen this season, point guard Nathan George and forward Baye Ndongo (11.7 ppg), both having started 26 games. Tech also features Miles Kelly, its leading scorer with a 14.6-ppg average, and junior guard Kowacie Reeves (10.1).

Virginia is an 8-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.