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Chris Graham: Yes, Virginia, that Tennessee game just happened

It was as good a time as any to look at the RPI ratings. Going into Monday’s game at Tennessee, Virginia was a decent, if middling, 51st overall, sandwiched between VCU and Mercer. An RPI rating of 51 doesn’t guarantee you an NCAA bid, but you’re close, and if you’re UVa., you’ve got the whole ACC season to build on what was going into Monday night already the 44th-toughest schedule in the country.

tony-bennett-newlinks2None of that matters right now, though, does it? Not after Tennessee absolutely humbled Virginia, 87-52, to send Virginia to its second straight road loss.

And for those keeping score at home, that translates to an 0-2 record on the road on the season.

(Virginia has won three games away from Charlottesville on neutral sites this year, but has not yet won in an opponent’s arena. Yeah, ouch.)

So there’s the 0-2 record on the road, and there’s the two losses in the team’s two most meaningful home games – a 59-56 loss on Nov. 12 to VCU and a 48-38 loss on Dec. 4 to Wisconsin.

This is not the resume of a team that is destined for anything better than another NIT appearance.

Somebody call the guy working on the bust of Tony Bennett that was going to greet fans at the entrance to JPJ.

“They separated quick, and we couldn’t reel it back in,” said Bennett of Monday’s debacle, which saw Virginia fall behind 13-4 by the first timeout and trail by double digits for the last 32:42 of the game.

It was 48-26 at the half, and UVa. only briefly made a small run in the second half to get the margin under 20 before Tennessee stepped on the throttle again.

“At the end, we were just trying to play some solid basketball, and that was a struggle for us, too,” Bennett said. “So that’s humbling, it really is. You look at that and you say, Here we go.”

Some tune-up for ACC play this one was, eh? Virginia opens conference action on Saturday – yep, you guessed it, on the road, at Florida State. That would be an fsu team that was ranked 25th in the RPI going into Monday night, a 9-3 record overall, a win over VCU and narrow losses to Michigan and Florida.

“We have to get back to playing as tough as we can getting ready to go into ACC play,” understated Bennett, who was as flummoxed as anybody at the, ahem, effort put forth by his team in Knoxville.

“This will sound funny, but we prepared and had three solid days of practice, we really did. I wasn’t expecting us to come out and perform like this,” Bennett said.

He could be referring to the entirety of the first half of the 2013-2014 season there, couldn’t he? This was a Virginia team that was ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 and was picked to finish fourth in the ACC in the preseason.

Fans were ready to anoint Bennett as the second coming of Terry Holland after Bennett’s 2011-2012 team made the NCAAs and his 2012-2013 team just missed a tourney bid by thismuch. The roster, keyed by 2012-2013 All-ACC first-teamer Joe Harris and a deep supporting cast, might be the most talented to collectively wear a Virginia uniform dating back to the 1994-1995 Cavs that were four minutes away from the Final Four.

Given the lack of success for Virginia basketball dating back to that 1995 Elite Eight run, with exactly zero appearances in the ACC semifinals and just one NCAA Tourney win in just four trips to the Big Dance in the past 18 seasons, a 9-4 start normally wouldn’t be considered all that bad.

But to whom much is given, much is expected, and this season has to this point been an unmitigated disaster based on expectations.

Discussion
  • Jeff Yutzler

    This was prescient.

    • If you’re even moderately honest about it, you wouldn’t have predicted the turnaround that came after this debacle, either. As a UVA alum and fan, I am very glad that I was wrong with this one, of course. But it didn’t change by accident. London Perrantes was inserted as the starting point guard, Malcolm Brogdon moved from 1 to 2, Justin Anderson became the sixth man, and that righted the ship. Talking to players the past couple of weeks, all have told me that the Tennessee disaster was a needed wake-up call. This column predicted that it may turn out to be a death-knell. Credit to this team for building from it.

 
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Hosts Chris Graham and Crystal Graham of Augusta Free Press highlight local news and newsmakers with an emphasis on the Shenandoah Valley on Viewpoints on WVPT.

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Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press, ESPN3 baseball broadcaster and the author of five books. Crystal Graham is the award-winning former host of WVPT’s Virginia Tonight.

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