Chris Graham: What’s wrong with UVa. basketball?

Back-to-back losses in and of themselves are enough reason to worry about Tony Bennett’s reeling UVa. basketball squad. But the way the ‘Hoos lost this week could be cause for big-time concern.

tony-bennett-newlinks2On Wednesday, Virginia lost at home to #8 Wisconsin 48-38, hitting just five of its last 38 shots from the field in losing a game in which it held the Badgers to 28.8 percent shooting from the field.

Then on Saturday, at Green Bay, the ‘Hoos lose 75-72 while shooting 50 percent from the field. Problem Saturday night was that the Phoenix shot 51 percent from the field and 50 percent (7-of-14) from three-point range.

So what happened this week was that Virginia lost playing its preferred pace against Wisconsin at home, then lost on the road after getting lured into a more up-and-down contest.

One way to look at this, as I intimated above, would be to think big-time concern. Virginia, in the preseason Top 25, picked fourth in the rugged ACC, didn’t expect to be 7-3 after 10 games. The Cavs lost the three significant games on their schedule before their first-semester exam break – at home to VCU and Wisconsin, on the road at Green Bay.

Fans would look at the VCU and Wisconsin losses and think, OK, at least they were Top 15 teams, but Green Bay? Don’t sleep on Green Bay. The Phoenix were picked to win the Horizon, which again, most people are saying, really, you’re selling me on the Horizon?

Yeah, the Horizon, which also has Cleveland State (third in the preseason poll), which had Kentucky on the ropes in Rupp Arena last month.

(OK, Cleveland State is 4-5. And Wright State, picked second, lost by 20 today to VMI. Give me credit for trying. Back to the causes for concern.)

I gave Virginia a D grade for the first half of the season after its loss to Wisconsin Wednesday night because of the high expectations coming into the season and the failure to meet those expectations with the losses to the Rams and the Badgers.

I’ll stick with the D grade after the Green Bay game, because I think there are some good takeaways from the game. (Here I go again, trying to put a positive spin on this crapper of a season.) Virginia battled back from down 13 on the road against a team that desperately wanted the big upset to tie the game with two minutes to go and had a shot in the final 15 seconds to win.

Granted, it was at Green Bay that this happened, and not at, say, Duke, but I think the lessons learned will be transferrable down the road.

As positive as I’m trying to be, this season could quickly turn into a disaster if Bennett can’t figure out whatever is vexing his team over the upcoming exam break. Northern Iowa, the team that Virginia meets on its return from the break on Dec. 21, is just 3-5, but did take #17 Iowa State to overtime today before losing. Then it’s Norfolk State (7-3) on Dec. 23, and at Tennessee (6-2) on Dec. 30 before opening ACC play at Florida State (5-3, with a blowout win over #10 VCU, a two-point overtime loss to #14 Michigan, and a one-point loss at #15 Florida) on Jan. 4.

Virginia could just as easily be 7-7 as it could be 11-3 after that stretch.

This season started as an NCAA Tournament-or-bust type season for Bennett. The closer to 11-3 his team is after FSU, the closer we are to NCAA Tournament. We don’t even want to think about the bust.