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Weekend Homework: Aiming for history

It is blasphemous, really, to even make the comparison.

Except, well, it’s sitting right there and hard to ignore.

Virginia has won 12 ACC games in a row, and with one more the Cavaliers would clinch their first outright conference title since 1981.

1981, the year, or maybe The Year for Virginia fans, the high-water mark for the program, the unreachable carrot for some 33 years now.

That’s when a sophomore by the name of Ralph Sampson led the Cavs to a 13-1 finish in the conference and the school's first Final Four berth.

Needless to say, there is no Ralph Sampson on Tony Bennett’s roster, hence the blasphemy of such a comparison. But there is a team, a very good one, capable of matching Sampson’s figurative heights, if not his literal 7-foot-4 height.

The only little thing standing in the way to complete the first leg is a pesky little team by the name of Syracuse that could, with a few more wins, do in one year what the Cavaliers have been waiting for three decades to repeat. That’s about as in-your-face upstart as it comes.

Of course the Orange have been pretty much headline hoggers since ACC season started. Two epic games against Duke, a few wild buzzer-beaters, and an unexpected loss have turned the team from Central New York into the ACC’s most entertaining drama.

Among the other storylines overshadowed -- Virginia’s impressive season.

Now with the Cavs finally circling into the Orange’s orbit, perhaps they can get their due.

But that is really the question and the conundrum facing Virginia. Can they ever get their due this season, at least their regular-season due?

As good as the Cavs have been, an unbalanced conference schedule has made their life noticeably less trying than others. They will play Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina just once, two of them on their own floor. It is not their fault. They, like Wichita State, can only play the hand that they’ve been dealt. But much like the Shockers have endured, that’s been the sticking point about both their record and their standing in the conference.

Even a win on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) would have the home-court asterisk.

Still, whoever wins this will have earned it. This promises to be more rock fight than ballet, with two teams that make their money on defense. The Cavs rank first in the nation in scoring defense (54.7), the Orange seventh (56.8) and both are top five in fewest possessions per game.

Since the defenses are such a push, the difference might be in the offense. Syracuse’s offense has been on the fritz lately, part of the reason for those close wins and two losses. The Orange’s scoring has dropped from 70 points per game over their first 25 games to 58.7 in the past three, their field goal percentage dropping from 45 to 37 but anyone who thinks Syracuse can’t right itself didn’t watch those first 25 games.

On the flip side, Bennett has his best offensive team in years, maybe in his Virginia career. What used to be the Joe Harris show has expanded to include terrific freshman point guard London Perrantes as well as sophomore Malcolm Brogdon. Harris’ minutes and production have dipped but in this case, that’s a good thing.

This already has been an historical season for Virginia -- for conference wins, for the most ACC wins by more than 20 points -- but there is one marker the Cavaliers are still aiming for.

It was The Year that everyone went right for Virginia.

Could the Cavaliers walk down that road again, or is the new kid on the block going to get in the way?