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Cavalier attitude is downright defensive

The Virginia Cavaliers don’t call attention to themselves. They don’t beat their chests as they roll through the ACC and sit atop the national polls.

The ACC leaders for the second straight season don’t even say "I told you so" — though they could— to those that ranked them fourth in the preseason ... for the second straight season. See a trend?

The Cavs (24-1, 12-1 ACC), who will participate in the Gildan Charleston Classic Nov. 19-22 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C., don’t do a lot of things. Primarily, they don’t let opponents score.

Heading into this weekend, the Cavaliers are shutting teams down at an unprecedented rate. Their 50.8 ppg allowed are the fewest in coach Tony Bennett’s six seasons in Charlottesville, and the fewest in the ACC. That's more than eight points ahead of the Louisville Cardinals, who are at 59.0. The Cavs have given less than a three-pointer more in conference play, surrendering 53.2 ppg — Clemson is next at 58.8.

The Cavs are playing Bennett’s signature style of "defense first," which has resulted in his teams finishing in the top five nationally five times in his eight years as a head coach, a 72-3 record in games during which his teams have allowed 50-or-fewer points (46-2 at Virginia; 11-0 this season) and opponents scoring in figures that turn back time to the days before the shot clock.

Of the seven Division I teams held to fewer than 30 points this season, three have been Virginia opponents. The 2014-15 Cavaliers are the first Virginia team to hold teams to fewer than 30 points at least three times since the 1945-46 Cavs did it five times. They are the first D-I team to hold three opponents to fewer than 30 since the 1996-97 NC State Wolfpack, and held Georgia Tech to 28 points Jan. 22, historically the fewest points in an ACC regular-season game.

The Yellow Jackets are in good company in being frustrated by the Cavs. Virginia has consistently stifled opposing offenses, and for long stretches. The Cavs held five teams without a field goal for more than 10 minutes, including Louisville, which went without a FGM for 12:06 — the longest field streak by an opponent is Harvard, which went without a field goal for 19:53 — and has held four other teams without a bucket for more than eight minutes.

All of this defense has the Cavaliers on the verge of winning their second straight outright ACC regular-season championship. That’s impressive enough, but more so considering that in 61 years of ACC basketball only one other school not named Duke or North Carolina has done it. The other is NC State, which, led by David Thompson, won the conference in 1973 and '74. The '74 team also was No. 1 in the nation heading into the NCAA tournament, and wound up winning it all.

At 12-1 in conference play, the Cavaliers have a game-and-a-half lead over Notre Dame (11-3), 2 1/2 over Duke (9-3), and they're 3.5 ahead of Louisville (8-4) and North Carolina (8-4). Only Duke can claim a win over the Cavs.

The schedule for the remainder of February appears to work in the Cavs’ favor — home games with Florida State (6-7) and Virginia Tech (2-10) — before they conclude the regular season with road games at Syracuse (7-5) and Louisville.

If the Cavs can repeat as regular-season champions, they can try to become the fifth school not located in Durham or Chapel Hill to win back-to-back conference tournaments and, again, join the '73 and '74 Wolfpack, the only teams outside of Duke and UNC to repeat as ACC regular-season and tournament champions.