UVA basketball: Doom and gloom

uva-basketball newTo say atop the standings in the ACC and in contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, writes ESPN.com columnist C.L. Brown, second-ranked UVA needs to recalibrate its offense.

Well, here we go again.

The national sports media types didn’t want to give Virginia any credit as the Cavs made their way toward the top of the national polls. Weak schedule, they’d say, they’re boring, they play too slow, their games are too close because of their pace.

Then came the roller-coaster ride. By the time UVA got to 19-0, it was, this team might go undefeated, they give Kentucky a run, but they’re still too slow.

The loss to Duke was the dip, the wins over UNC and Louisville were another rise, but the loss of Justin Anderson in the first half of the Louisville win got us back to ground zero with the narrative about how Virginia was in over its head trying to be a national-title contender.

Winning by four on the road at N.C. State only fueled the embers to that new old storyline, because, you know, four! At N.C. State!

Forget that Duke got its doors blown off at N.C. State, that UNC escaped with a one-point win, and that the Pack scored 87 and 79 in those games, respectively.

That same team that put up those numbers against two of the ACC’s representatives in the Top 12 of the national polls has played Virginia twice now this season, and combined – combined! – scored 98 points in those games.

So Virginia didn’t look like the second coming of Paul Westhead’s 1990s Loyola Marymount squads last night in Raleigh in its first game without Anderson. Look back to the first game with State, in Charlottesville in January, a 61-51 win, and you see that the games weren’t all that different.

In last night’s 51-47 win, UVA scored .879 points per possession and held State to .810 points per possession; in the January win, the Cavs scored 1.017 points per possession and limited the Pack to .850 points per possession.

Yes, then, Virginia struggled relative to its output on offense from the first game to the second, but also tightened the clamps on defense. And, come on, give coach Tony Bennett a little bit of a break, it was his first game without his second-leading scorer, Anderson shooting 48 percent from three and being the team’s best rim-runner from the perimeter.

And look at the productivity in the final 10 minutes, crunch time. Virginia scored 20 points on its final 20 possessions, a point per possession, pretty much the productivity that the ‘Hoos had in the first win over State in January.

Also, give the Wolfpack some credit. This was an NCAA Tournament team as of a couple of weeks ago, before a streak of four losses in five games coming into the UVA game, which made last night about as close to a must-win game as you can declare.

Which is to say, N.C. State isn’t chopped liver, and beating the Pack on the same home floor where a few weeks ago they waxed Duke isn’t something to easily dismiss.

Any more than one can easily dismiss top-ranked Kentucky winning by two at LSU. Except that when Kentucky rallies to beat an LSU you don’t have columnists going on and on about how Kentucky is going to need to recalibrate what it’s doing to remain atop the standings in the SEC and remain in contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UK gets a pass because, well, UK! They’re awesome! They’re going to go unbeaten!

For what it’s worth, the UVA guys don’t mind that they don’t get that kind of respect. They play better with a chip on their shoulders.

Which is good, because the questions are going to continue to be there, even when Anderson returns.

– Column by Chris Graham

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