What a difference a year makes. Or not even a full year, really, just the turn of the calendar. The last one-third of 2013 was easily the most miserable four months in this blog's history - maybe in my history as a UVA fan. The last time we had such a crap football season I was able to band-aid the pain with weekly speculation on new football coaches. And even then we beat Maryland. Basketball season was supposed to provide some relief, and it didn't (and furthermore sent off 2013 in pitiful style.) It's cool that the soccer teams made it to the College Cup, but even that was disappointing since we had such high hopes for a national title and it's really hard to follow soccer when it's never on TV and whenever it was, we lost. Yay Director's Cup points, but neither an ACC nor national title resulted from those spectacular seasons.
2014 made it all better. For a start to a year, it's not bad. Let's say that in the past, oh, two years or so, I've thought X times of shutting down the blog, moving on, maybe looking for a part-time thing elsewhere - then X/2 of those have been in the past three months. Because it's no fun following a 2-10 futureless and aimless football team let alone writing about one, which forces you to be more involved than you wish you could be, and when you then think, OK, this sucks, but at least in the other major sport, we're on the verge of being a national power, and then they have a very NIT-worthy start to the season.....oh god, yuck.
Thank the baby angels for Tony Bennett. The man looks at the Tennessee debacle and decided to remind us all he can still coach. A simple adjustment on offense, which boiled down to "stop running around all over the place" and UVA is 3-0, coming off two straight humiliations of ACC rivals. Confidence: restored. I came away from the TV set yesterday thinking, man, I can't wait to write about that. I was going to (FINALLY) finish up the team previews today, but they'll have to wait til Monday now.
The Hoos got a nice little schedule present in being able to take one trip to play two games, a rarity in college basketball. Tomorrow they'll face Duke, and they'll have to deal with a psychological reversal from the Wake Forest game. Wake was coming off a big win and UVA was still smarting from a nasty loss. It'll be the other way around now, and you know with Duke, they'll be redoubling their efforts. They fortunately won't have much time to stew on it, or practice on it, but it's Cameron, man. UVA won't be able to just sneak in there. I'm OK with that, of course. You know how Duke is: any year they don't win the ACC title is a disappointment. Having their undivided attention means they consider you a threat to that end, and isn't that how we want it?
Further notes in brief:
-- If Mark Gottfried wants improved defense out of his team, he might move Jordan Vandenberg to the bench in favor of Beejay Anya. Doris Burke commented that Mike Tobey was much less effective in the second half - this is because Anya was assigned to him then, as Vandenberg proved to be a pylon. Without Anya, UVA gets above 80 points, easy; he stuffed a couple potential transition buckets and shut down Tobey.
-- UVA could have scored zero points in the second half and still won.
-- Interior scoring is sustainable scoring. Like I said after the Wake win. When you go 3-for-13 from three, you don't win by 31. Usually. I like this much better than if we'd won by the same score but gone 10-for-13 from three instead. That's not repeatable. This is.
-- Burke's sarcastic comment that NC State might want to think about getting the ball to T.J. Warren more was in fact inadvertant high praise for the job Joe Harris et. al. were doing on defense against him.
-- People have been questioning Harris's impact on the team this year considering that his scoring is a bit down, to which I have two responses. One, I did tell you it would be down. Two, he certainly is not lacking for confidence, as evidenced by his three-pointer from the state line.
-- It's plain to see that Justin Anderson's athleticism changes the game in ways that don't show on the score sheet. Like whatever the hell he did to save that one possession in the second half. Much more than your usual out-of-bounds save. It was similar to his impromptu reverse-oop jam last year; the guy just has incredible body control and even better instant decision-making.
-- Burke also commented that Tony Bennett wouldn't like it much if the shot clock were changed from 35 to 24 seconds. Are you kidding? We'd LOVE this. UVA's average defensive possession length is 19.3 seconds; only six teams in the country have a longer one. If the shot clock were changed, practically every opponent's shot would be a hurried one. Yes, scoring would go up - but I'll bet UVA's opponents' scoring would go up a lot less than most. UVA's efficiency would probably drastically improve, since it already takes a long time for anyone to find a weakness in the pack-line they can use to shoot against.
(For the record, I wouldn't really want to see the shot-clock changed, because I think the vast inexperience of the players as compared to the pros would result in a lot of sloppy basketball. But selfishly, as long as Tony Bennett's our coach, please do change it.)
I'd been planning to write the Wake Forest preview today, but it'll have to be tomorrow. I have to apologize - writing these has been a grind, and I got absurdly sloppy around the holidays. You deserve more actual Virginia-focused content than you've been getting. You'll get it starting this week. I want to do a too-early preview of next year's football units, O and D. I have catching-up to do on the recruits. When we hire new assistant coaches, I'm sure I'll have an opinion on that. (Gonna wait til they're official, though.) This aside from the fact that it's actually basketball season, so we might mention that some, too. And lastly, the lacrosse season starts a week earlier than usual, so I think next week we'll have to get cracking on that. Less than seven days ago I was shoveling snow in minus-12 degree weather and now I'm talking about the spring sports on the very near horizon. A yearly mind-boggler, that one.