NCAA

Cavs get set for heavyweight fight vs. UNC for ACC title

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Cavs get set for heavyweight fight vs. UNC for ACC title

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tony Bennett knows how long a road his basketball program has traveled to reach this point, and he isn't taking the moment for granted.

After Friday night's 73-68 win over Miami, Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers will face No. 7 North Carolina in the ACC Championship on Saturday night. It'll be the second time in the last three years that his team has played one of the league's blue bloods for conference supremacy.

"Our program, we base it on what we call pillars," the coach said after the win. "The first one is humility. They don't think too highly of themselves or too low. They have a true identity."

On the court, that identity has translated to methodically wearing out the opposition with suffocating defense, solid rebounding and the stellar play of senior guard and ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.

The Cavs will face a tougher version of Carolina, however, than the one they defeated two weeks ago; the Tar Heels have relied on their size in the paint to win most of this season, but on Friday night showed what happens when they can do that and shoot well from the outside with Marcus Paige. As Notre Dame can attest, it can turn into a rout quickly. 

"We have to stay humble," Cavs forward Anthony Gill said. "We have to be ready from the beginning. They're going to throw their best punch at us. They're playing really good ball right now. They're a really good team and we just have to be ready."

Nevertheless, Saturday night will be a heavyweight fight that will not only decide the conference title, but could very well determine whether or not two top seeds in the NCAA Tournament will come from the ACC. 

"They're an amazing team," Cavs center Michael Tobey said of Carolina. "I mean, every team they just load up with more and more great players....they're a deep team, [but] I think we're seeing more this postseason, these last two games, about how deep of a team we are."

"I just think that we have to not change anything that we do," added Gill. "We have a system that Coach Bennett has structured for us to play offensively and defensively, and if we run it to the best of our abilities, I think we'll have a good chance."

Without a doubt, most eye balls will be fixated on the Paige vs. Brogdon matchup. But numerous Cavs players each pointed to a more important key to defeating Carolina: Limiting points in transition and preventing offensive rebounds. "Two big things we do really well," guard London Perrantes said. "Two things we try to pride ourselves on the defensive side."

Should Virginia prevail, it would be the first time an ACC school not named Duke or Carolina has won two conference championships over three seasons since Wake Forest went back-to-back in 1995 and 1996. It'd be quite the accomplishment for a program that had won just 15 games in Bennett's first season in Charlottesville six years ago. 

"It hasn't been easy," Bennett said. "This year has been a little different than the last one...we're looking forward to the opportunity and we'll have to be at our best."

Future NBA prospect Omer Yurtseven transfers to Georgetown from NC State

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USA TODAY Sports

Future NBA prospect Omer Yurtseven transfers to Georgetown from NC State

The pieces are starting to come together for Patrick Ewing.

On Monday the Georgetown Hoyas picked up perhaps the biggest (literally and figuratively) target of the transfer market, Omer Yurtseven.

From North Carolina State, the transfer from Istanbul Turkey will have two years remaining of eligibility. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he is not allowed to play for the 2018-19 season.

MORE NCAA: TOP BUZZER BEATERS IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY

Standing at 7-0, the center helped power the Wolfpack to an NCAA tournament bid this past season. Averaging 13.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a contest, Yurstseven earned All-ACC Third Team honors in the 2017-18 season. He also touted a 58.3 shooting percentage and was not afraid to pull it up from deep either (22 made three-pointers).

NC State lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 8 Seton Hall, but he was limited due to foul trouble with only two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes of play.

Initially, he is the option to fill the void that Jessie Govan will leave, whether that is during this offseason or next. Already the team has lost power forward Marcus Derrickson

Yurtseven will just be another frontcourt talent for Ewing with the Hoyas.

It was widely reported that he was considering playing options, both in the United States and abroad before this announcement. Easily he has the talent to go in first round of the NBA Draft whichever year he declares.

On the same day, the Hoyas also announced the signing of four-star guard James Akinjo.

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

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USA TODAY Sports

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

SAN ANTONIO -- Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn't going to waver from his foundation, whether it's the philosophy that built the Cavaliers into a contender or the big-picture perspective that helps him handle the sting of a historically improbable loss.

Both ends of that approach are fully on display now as he is named The Associated Press men's college basketball coach of the year.

Bennett won the honor Thursday after his Cavaliers set a program single-season record for wins, dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era. Yet that wildly successful season ended abruptly in the most unexpected way: with the Cavaliers falling to UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history.

"They experienced things a lot of guys don't," Bennett said in an interview with the AP. "That kind of success? Oh my gosh. And then that kind of loss? ... But again, their body of work deserves to be celebrated.

"And then so much of what society looks at -- it begs the question -- is it just about how you do in March? Or is it about the whole thing? It's a fair debate (on) what matters. But I told them: I wouldn't trade this team for anything. Even the experiences, as hard as they are, this is part of the process."

Bennett was the runaway winner for the award, which is being presented at the Final Four. He earned 50 of 65 votes from AP Top 25 writers with ballots submitted before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee's Rick Barnes was second with five votes after leading the Volunteers to 26 wins and an NCAA bid despite being picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was third with four votes.

This marks the second time Bennett has won the award, the other coming in 2007 when he was at Washington State.

In Bennett's ninth season, the Cavaliers (31-3) went from being picked to finish sixth in the ACC to winning the regular-season race by four games -- the first to win the ACC by that wide a margin since 2000. It then won the ACC Tournament to complete a 20-1 run against league opponents.

MORE NCAA: BEST BUZZER BEATERS IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY

Virginia also reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 1982 and stayed there the final five weeks of the regular season, the last two unanimously.

And yet, the 48-year-old coach knows much of the focus will be on how things ended: that 74-54 loss to the Retrievers while playing without ACC sixth man of the year De'Andre Hunter.

Dealing with a roster of players in pained disbelief, Bennett said he has told them that they have "an unbelievable captive audience" waiting to see how they would handle it.

"I said how you respond to this will matter to your mom and dads, to your brothers, your sisters, your friends," Bennett said. "If they see that you're not fake about it, that yeah, of course you're going to be discouraged and down after a loss like that, but that you're OK. You can live with it.

"I said: you don't know the power that that's going to have in their life and in your life."

Bennett said he appreciated other coaches offering support, which included Syracuse Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim noting: "If I could hire a coach in this country and I could get Tony Bennett, there would be nobody in second place."

He said he's still reviewing what worked and what didn't, but "certainly you don't overreact" by changing everything that had brought the Cavaliers to this point.

This is, after all, a program that has been a 1-seed three times in the past five seasons with three ACC regular-season titles.

And Bennett won't be deterred from chasing more, even if it means stumbling a few more times on the way to reaching his goals.

"You better have something beyond the opinion of man or just how you feel, because this stuff is fleeting," Bennett said.

"So that's where obviously my faith is everything to me. You hear people talk about their faith in the lord and the relationship with the people that they care about, their family and their trusted friends. Those things stand the test of time. And that's what you have to draw from. And then you move on."