Monday, May 23, 2011

what's old is new again

Naturally, as soon as Saturday's game against Cornell started, and UVA gained possession, Cornell did exactly what you'd expect from a team that knew its opponent was going to try and slow the game down.  They extended their midfield defense all the way out to Siberia and put someone right in the face of not only the ballcarrier, but his passing options too.  As it started to work and UVA got very few good looks at any possible way to get the ball moving somewhere, and Cornell started building an early 4-1 lead, I reflected on UVA games past and a time when teams wouldn't dare do that because UVA's athletes would make them pay for leaving all that open space.  The old Virginia would've crushed anyone who thought they could have a short-stick defender playing its midfielders at a distance of three inches.  Remember, the last time UVA and Cornell met on the playoffs field, Cornell did the exact opposite: they packed it way in, let our attackers pass and run all over the field, but dared them to shoot through the red forest in front of the net.  It worked spectacularly, too.

Turns out that being down 4-1 is having 'em right where we want 'em.  It also turns out that the old Virginia is the new Virginia.  When simply running past overeager defenders isn't an option, there are other ways to take them out of the play.  Passing works for these purposes.  UVA has discovered the art of the pass again, and on Saturday, ballcarriers found all kinds of passing targets.  Some got open the traditional way, which is to run to an undefended spot (a skill that looked forgotten for most of this season), and some got open thanks to an impressive array of screens and offensive sets.

In carving up the normally solid Cornell defense, the UVA offense redeemed two seasons: this year's, and next.  Losing to end the season never fails to be disappointing, but getting back to the Final Four is what this season will be thankfully remembered for, not what happened in the ACC tournament.  And as for next season, simply remember that the attack squad that did that (to Cornell) was comprised almost entirely of non-seniors.  The only player on that starting attack or first-line midfield that won't be here next year is John Haldy, a decent player who is nevertheless replaceable.  And in that stunning nine-goal run,** seven different players scored - all of whom will be back next year.

**Seriously: nine goals in a row!  I just wanted to type it again to see if it was any more believable.  It's not.  Nine goals!  Seven in one quarter!  I'm not interested in looking at every line score from every game of the season, but I will bet that the second quarter was the best-played quarter by any team, anywhere in the country, all year.  Seven to nothing in one quarter didn't even happen for us against VMI or MSM.  To make it happen against Cornell is mind-blowing.

So, back to the Final Four, where the Hoos will take on Denver in Denver's first Final Four appearance ever, and because of that they'll be everyone's least favorite team in Baltimore.  The lacrosse world is pulling for the Pioneers.  This is great news.  I told you to beware the power of a team with UVA's talent and an underdog mentality.  That can be a buzzsaw.  It was on Saturday.


Other ramblings:

- Now, how about Bray Malphrus?  Adam Ghitelman played a terrific game, Steele Stanwick had seven points to go with his eight against Bucknell, but the MVP of the game is Malphrus.  I will brook no argument.  In man-to-man situations, Malphrus was matched up against Tewaaraton finalist and previously-thought-to-be runaway winner Rob Pannell.  Pannell had three goals in the game: the first was had nothing to do with the defense, and the second didn't come until two minutes remained in the third period with Cornell already a mile down.  His goals had little effect on the game except to pull Cornell to a four-goal deficit instead of five.  It's not a stretch to say Bray Malphrus and the zone defense may have taken the Tewaaraton away from Pannell.  They certainly ended Cornell's season.

- It's a down year in the ACC and yet the Final Four looks like the ACC tournament redux.  Maryland and Duke are on the other side of the bracket.  No fair trying to call out all the analysts who bagged on the ACC for a down year, because it was.  The losses that ACC teams suffered, like Colgate, Ohio State, and Penn, they happen, but they shouldn't happen all in one year.  So it was a down regular season.  But it's not a down year any more.  And while I have, let's put it very mildly, an extremely strong distaste for Maryland and Duke lax, I can't help but giggle at pissed off Syracuse fans who aren't enjoying the ACC success.  The Big East may be a threat one day to ACC lacrosse dominance, but with both the Domers and Cuse falling to ACC squads, that time hasn't come yet.

- Almost all the seeds advanced in the first round, and then the quarterfinals were upset city.  Which probably goes to show that the quarterfinals weren't really all that big of an upset-fest after all.  There's a distinct difference between the best teams and the not-best teams, but not much of one among the top tier.

- UVA plays on Saturday at 4:00.  The championship game, if for some reason we might be interested in that, is Monday at 3:30.

- Despite the mega-jinxitude of this: Bring on Denver.  I can't wait.


A small announcement and slight confession: I'll be out of town over the Memorial Day weekend so actually, I won't get to see the Denver game, or preview the championship game if there is one for us.  That's just as well because all it would say is: we lost to these guys before so let's fuck 'em up this time for revenge.  I'll post as normal on Thursday, then Friday through Sunday will be off days.  Monday, if I'm in the mood, I'll write something.  If there's something fun to write about, you know what I mean?

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