Monday, January 18, 2010

no cure for the madness

Apparently there is no cure for dizziness. Last week I said that the NCAA tournament talk was fun and all, but let's not go crazy til at least maybe we've beaten Miami and then Wake Forest on the road. We UVA fans are an excitable bunch, after all. It's too late now to stop the train, though: ESPN's resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi - never one in the past to cast a favorable eye on UVA's tournament chances - has beaten us to the punch and joined the dizzy dance. Now we're a 13th seed in this week's projection, and not only that but in the bracket as the ACC autobid. And for a further touch of tournament dizziness, we're actually a 12 seed in his mind, but bumped to a 13th seed for procedural reason (i.e., two other ACC teams are 5 seeds.)

Well, fine. I was going to sow the seeds of caution one more time here and await the results of next week's Wake Forest game before I started getting all tournament-dizzy, but what fun is it being a UVA fan anyway, if I can't get overexcited about this stuff? Besides, Lunardi wrote it, so it must be true, and anyway, we're also "ranked" 30th in the AP poll, so let's enjoy this while it lasts, and hope it lasts til March.

Obviously, we have to maintain this pace or no Madness for us. Andy Katz throws us a second bone in less than a week, and at the same time cautions, quite rightly, that we could still lose any one of these remaining games. The ESPNU broadcasters hit the nail on the head the other day when they said we can't just hand the ball to anyone and let them make a play and win the one-on-one battles. Playing the system is what wins the games right now, and that's absolutely right and what it means is that the margin for error remains slim. This isn't a team that can make mistakes and survive them. The ACC can bite you in the ass - hard - and before you know it you've gone two weeks without winning a game and you're wondering if the NIT folks remember who you are. Remember also that we have the world's lamest nonconference slate and didn't do so hot against it and we really have to take the ACC by storm if we want to play on the big dance floor.

Before this Miami game gets too far out of our memory banks, though, let's take a quick look back at it. Had we merely inched past Miami, we might be getting a lot of the same love from the national types, but I wouldn't be feeling it nearly as much. I don't need to tell you what a major-league woodshedding that was. Miami wasn't in that game from tip to horn. I always thought the Canes were a bit overrated, but we weren't supposed to be able to do that to anyone. Especially Miami: they have several players with the ability to make it rain three-pointers, which has been our toughest matchup all year as the players try and learn the pack-line defense. Given the choice between cheating out to contest three-pointers before their man actually has the ball, and staying true to the principles of the defense (which demands the players pack the floor in tight inside an invisible line about three feet inside the three-point line so as not to get yelled at), the players have chosen not getting yelled at every time. It's showed in our three-point defense, as the team has struggled to get out quickly enough to get a hand in the shooter's face when he gets the ball behind the arc. It's a tricky thing to learn, but Miami was 4-for-19 from threeland, and I can't recall them shooting too many open ones without someone being in their grill. This is the kind of steady improvement that's got me ready to join the dizziness.

P.S. - Winning always generates nice fluff pieces in the local press about your team, so here are a couple from the Washington Post and Roanoke Times. If you love you some Tony Bennett, and what orange-blooded Hoo doesn't right now, then you also like reading about how awesome he is, and these provide just such an opportunity.

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