Virginia can do two things: Play D, and win

uva basketballYou know that the metrics don’t like Virginia, even in spite of the 11 wins in 12 games thing.

The object of the game is, yeah, to win, but, I mean, you’re supposed to do it in style, and ugly as sin ain’t a style.

This Virginia team is ranked 234th nationally in adjusted points per possession, citing the metric from

KenPom is a Hokie, sure, but, the numbers are the numbers.

The teams around Virginia, on both sides:

  • Florida Atlantic (16-15), 232.
  • Western Michigan (13-18), 233.
  • Weber State (12-19), 235.
  • IUIPUI (7-25), 236.

The nearest Power 5 team: Boston College (13-18), at 220.

Next: Texas A&M (16-14), nod to ol’ Brent there, in his first season, at 201.

We’re not talking about teams anywhere near the NCAAs, the NIT.

CBI, maybe.

“I’ll start off by giving Virginia a lot of credit. They have gotten so much better throughout the course of the season. They are playing their best basketball of the year.”

That was Chris Mack, the latest head coach forced to explain how in hades his team had lost to a team that can’t throw it in the ocean if you spot them the shoreline.

Virginia, God love ‘em, and we do, but they only know how to do two things well.

Play D, and win.

“I think we’ve improved,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said, but then what he says next is what he’s really thinking.

“We were really close when we were losing, and we’re still really close when we’re winning. We’ve just improved a little bit.”

Those of us following along, we look up at that banner hanging from the rafters, and we’re good.

This stretch of 11-1 from this team? It’s gravy.

The job that Bennett is doing this year reminds me of a quote attributed to homespun Houston Oiler coach Bum Phillips back in the 1970s.

I grew up a fan of those Oilers teams, which featured Earl Campbell, and were perpetually knocking on the door of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls in the decade, knocking my Oilers out of the playoffs twice as they did so.

Phillips famously said of Pittsburg coach Chuck Noll: “He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”

That’s the only way I can explain how Bennett and his staff were able to take this group to a second-place finish in the ACC.

“I just think guys have just moved the needle a little bit, and it’s been enough,” Bennett said, almost sheepishly, which is how Tony Bennett says anything wherein he might otherwise have to remotely give himself even a sliver of credit.

“We know what our lifeline is: trying to be as good as we can defensively.”

That’s, naturally, selling it short.

The lifeline of any Tony Bennett team is “trying to be as good as we can defensively.”

This team isn’t going to win a national championship – spoiler alert, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but, no.

But that won’t be the legacy of this team.

What you will remember the 2019-2020 Virginia Cavaliers for is knowing how to win.

In this 11-1 stretch, Virginia has eight wins – eight! – by three points or less.

And another by five. And another by seven.

The loss was a game in which Virginia led in the final three minutes.

Somebody will get them eventually, but whoever it is will have to outwill them.

This team isn’t going to be defeated, basically.

It might lose, but it’s going to take a lot.

Louisville is a good team – a damn good team.

It wasn’t quite good enough Saturday.

“I don’t think that was our best basketball yet,” senior Mamadi Diakite said after the Louisville game, which, OK, I’d agree, but also add: the phrase “best basketball” should probably never be used in reference to this Virginia team, and keep in mind, in saying that, I admire the absolute heck out of this Virginia team.

“We are going to keep evolving, no matter what. Like I said, the job is not done.”

Admire the absolute heck out of these guys.

Story by Chris Graham

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