Early loss at GW not at all the end of the world for UVA basketball

uva-logo-new2UVA basketball fans are no doubt spoiled. The Cavs’ loss at George Washington Monday night is just their seventh in a 56-game stretch dating back to Jan. 18, 2014.

A lot has happened since Jan. 18, 2014. For myself personally, the next day, Jan. 19, 2014, was the day that I started myself on a diet and exercise program, weighing in that morning at 280 pounds.

Today, I am down below 180, and I’m two days from having run my first marathon.

I reference the marathon because one thing we’ve learned the past two seasons is that a basketball season is a marathon, not a series of sprints.

For all the success Virginia basketball has had the past two seasons, winning 30 games and ACC regular-season titles back-to-back years, there was a soft underbelly that was exposed in March by a rugged Michigan State program that under veteran coach Tom Izzo didn’t come into March with anything near the in-season pedigree that those UVA teams did.

That was because Izzo learned long ago that November and December weren’t best spent filling up on cupcakes and loading up on easy Ws before the conference season. Michigan State, as if training for a marathon, puts in tough miles early, and if the early Ls come, so be it, because it’s not about how you start in a marathon, it’s how you finish.

You can see Izzo in the schedule that UVA coach Tony Bennett put together for his veteran ‘Hoos team this season. George Washington, itself with NCAA Tournament aspirations, is just the first of several tough early-season tests. Virginia will play at Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, will face West Virginia in New York in the Jimmy V Classic, will play Villanova and Cal at home sandwiched around first-semester final exams.

You had to know going in that UVA would not emerge from this gauntlet unscathed. Now, to be sure, neither did you expect that the first blemish would come this early, but that’s OK.

To borrow from what Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers told fans last season when the Packers got out to a slow start, R-E-L-A-X.

Remember that the 2013-2014 ‘Hoos lost twice at home, to VCU and Wisconsin, but grew from those losses and ended that season as ACC champs with a #1 NCAA tourney seed.

That team was peaking in March. Last year’s group peaked in January, when the big question in college basketball was, could Virginia win a clash of styles matchup with Kentucky?

Neither would be around for the final game in March, as it turned out.

Don’t push any panic buttons yet, not now, certainly, and even if this team loses a couple more between now and the start of ACC play.

The schedule is more challenging this season. That’s a good thing. The focal point isn’t putting up another gawdy record to get a #1 seed, because a #1 seed isn’t the end, it’s a means to the end.

The end is to win a national title, and if UVA fans who also follow baseball can think back a few months, you don’t need to be the best team from beginning of season to end to hoist the big trophy and dogpile on the last day.

That Virginia team was winless in seven games against the mighty quartet of Virginia Tech, ODU, VMI and Georgetown, none of whom were still around for the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. R-E-L-A-X. It will be OK.

– Column by Chris Graham


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