Tuesday, February 11, 2014

points of view

I fully intended to write anything at all yesterday, but then what happened is I spent the evening on chat support trying to get my phone to work again.  I'm the absolute last person you'll see wigging out over being unconnected, but I do have this crazy fetish about getting the services I pay for, so it's nice that I can once again get text messages.

On the plus side, it gave me the chance to add the Maryland game to the stuff I was planning on, and things actually fall into place pretty nicely now.  Inside my head are two competing viewpoints on two different sports, so let's see if we can't resolve some of this cognitive dissonance.  Speaking in advance, before I even type this out, I am liking this idea so much that I might make it a weekly thing, if I can think of enough conflicting viewpoints on enough topics.

I said two sports, so let's start with lacrosse.


We're basically screwed, right?  Even though the team is 2-0, it's certainly not a happy 2-0 when it's just seconds from being 0-2.  Choking away an eight-point lead against Loyola in just one quarter of action, and giving up 12 goals to upstart Richmond, these things do not support the preseason hypothesis that the defense would be a major strength.  This is two games in a row we've seen the opponent go on huge scoring streaks; Loyola potted nine straight and Richmond seven straight, the latter to turn a 6-2 UVA lead into a 9-6 deficit.

Need I add any more anyway, when you win by one lousy goal over a team playing its first varsity game ever?  Can you imagine the utter humiliation if the Spiders had won that game?  It would be the lacrosse team's Chaminade.  And we've seen this story as recently as last year; letting Mount St. Mary's and Vermont hang around for way longer than necessary foreshadowed the losing that took place later.

Obviously, this team has some major work to do.  Two games in and it's obvious.  Matt Barrett has debuted with a .342 save percentage, faceoffs are just a nose above .500, and opponents have gotten too many easy goals.  Just wait til Duke gets a load of this; they're gonna be merciless.

Counterpoint: Actually, things are looking up.

Let's face it, Loyola is no shit team - there are still players there with a ring - and for three quarters there, plus overtime, UVA was absolutely serving notice.  I had that team as the 10th-best offense in the country last year and the defense held them 100% scoreless for two straight quarters.  That absolutely counts for something.

And remember, I had Loyola pegged as Ohio State's replacement on the schedule - they're roughly at the same level of quality - and we lost to Ohio State last year.  So, replace a loss with a win, and we're already ahead of schedule.

The offense is finding its groove, too.  The other ACC teams that played all demolished their opponents, none of them playing a team even remotely close to Loyola's quality and scoring either 16 or 19 goals depending on which ACC team we're talking about, and it was still James Pannell getting player of the week honors from the conference.  For one, that's a totally new contributor from last year; Pannell definitely got a head start on living up to the tremendous praise he got from Dom.

UVA's midfield game, at least in the goal-scoring department, looks sharp, too.  Greg Coholan and Tyler German made their mark, and overall five different midfielders have scored.  And then finally, the defense has actually been all over the turnover map, and you have to give a nod to Joseph Lisicky, who leads the team in caused turnovers and ground balls** despite not even starting.  Looks like a terrific find.

**Except for Mick Parks, which isn't fair since Parks is the faceoff dude.

Verdict: Punt.

In the end, neither side of the debate can be ignored.  There's no reason to beat Richmond by any less than 10 goals, unless it somehow turns out Richmond is a surprise powerhouse.  Motivation level may have come into play in that game, and that's still no excuse.

Besides, for every bad point I made there's a silver lining, and vice versa, too; for example, yay Pannell, but he did play two full games while the other teams' stars probably played three quarters at most.  This team is full of new names and new combinations, and still gelling; it's too early to draw any conclusions beyond eliminating the most extreme expectations in either direction.

We've seen domination in both directions, and a team that's capable of dominating and being dominated usually moves in the dominating direction.  Lacrosse is a very short, small-sample-size season, though, so it all depends on how much time they need.  With Drexel on deck, there's another very good chance to get some more data points on this team; til then, and maybe for a couple more weeks, we'll have to sit with slightly bated breath.


Point: The basketball team is slowly running out of steam.

It was probably inevitable, but 20-point blowouts have given way to a fair amount of drama during basketball games.  Boston College - the same Eagles that are 6-17 and only ever beat Virginia Tech in conference play - took advantage of sloppy defense and forced Tony Bennett to leave his regulars in, when he was probably contemplating when to let the walk-ons get some time.  And we were losing both the GT and Maryland games at halftime.

Really, it's the natural consequence of math, as well as simply being later in the season and having already expended a bunch of energy.  UVA is regressing to the mean, that's all - it's no surprise that teams, having oodles of tape on UVA's systems and tendencies, have figured out a way or two to deal with them.  Remember, this team was picked fourth in the conference, not first, so anything above sliding into the last double-bye spot in the tournament is overachieving.

Counterpoint: Pish-posh and fiddle-faddle.

In case you haven't noticed, most of those blowouts came against suckhole teams in the bottom of the standings with no hope of making the NCAA tournament (the lone exception being UNC, which was in a major rough patch at the time) - and by the way, BC and GT count as blowouts.  I warned you that BC was capable of keeping it close with a run or two, and the fact that they hit a couple timely threes doesn't change that we were blowing them out of the water for 36 minutes.

GT's a similar deal.  UVA went on a 22-1 run to finish the game and held the Jackets almost completely scoreless for 12 minutes.  If that had happened at the beginning rather than the end, we'd all be talking about what a complete domination it was and how we gave ourselves the luxury of just coasting the rest of the game.

So when we finally play a halfway-semi-decent team like Maryland, and that team goes on a hot jump-shooting streak to start the game, there's no reason to panic.  Everyone goes cold eventually, and if a team beats us because they shot 12-18 from three or something, you just tip your hat.  Til then, this team is still playing its calling-card awesome defense, and that's going to make even Syracuse sweat.

Verdict: Quit whining.

That is, if there's anyone out there doing so.  This one goes squarely to the counterpoint; if you'd said in November that in February I'd be complaining about no longer winning games by 20 points, I'm sure we'd all be a little bit happy about that.  Fun fact: even with a full one-third of the ACC season left, UVA can finish no worse than the 9th seed, and if Wake Forest loses tonight to NC State, you can make it the 8th seed.  In other words, we've literally already secured a single bye in the ACC tourney.

One more week of this winning stuff and you can write us into the Dance, too; I don't think we've quite reached the point where we could lose everything the rest of the way and still get invited, but we're on the cusp at worst.

Besides, is it really so bad to have to scrap for one every so often?

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