By and large, I'd say we UVA fans are a pretty fatalistic bunch. Whether more so than other fans, I couldn't say, but I'm sure Michigan fans don't have a Rule 2b, so there's that anyway. But pretty damn fatalistic, some of us very seriously and earnestly so. To varying degrees, UVA fans are convinced the refs have it out for us, the conference has it out for us, and the very fates have it out for us.
The events of Saturday can only make this fatalism worse - the difference, of course, is that for once, the fates have a benevolent side. Most of the action can be chalked up to big-time coaching from Tony Bennett, big-time shooting from the shooters, and big-time rebounding by the rebounders. Thomas Rogers - the senior we all forgot - hit a three-pointer, though, and right then it went from sanity to storybook.
The first thing I thought, after thirty seconds of gleeful laughter at the sight of the UVA bench going more totally apeshit than they had all season, was this: My lacrosse prediction is so screwed. It doesn't take a lot of prolixity to write the story now, not anymore. Senior Day, championship, scholarship, pandemonium.....it's so tailor-made for the fairy tales, just throw some conjunctions and stuff in between and you're all set. Rogers's shot didn't even hit rim. With the gods smiling on Charlottesville so, could there be any doubt how the lacrosse game would go? Syracuse, on both fields of play, played just well enough to let the Hollywood scriptwriters get their moment of tension in the movie that's surely coming out any day now.
Why, the day even moved Tony Bennett to sideline emotions. The man has two emotions on the sideline: stoic, and blind seething fury at jag-off refs. The latter is expressed with an eye-roll. The roof was already blown off the place and sailing toward the ionosphere and Tony sat in his crouch, watching the defense for any sign of a missed help or hedge, as if that was going to let Syracuse make up 19 points in as many seconds. Later his eyes glistened. Shortly after the horn. We all saw it - living proof that it means something to the guy to really and truly be able to follow through on the promise that brought his seniors to Charlottesville in the first place, one of them from three time zones hence.
As this very same stoic coach will remind his team fifty times a day between now and Saturday, there's still work to be done. The great part about this team and this coach is there's never a doubt the message will sink in. The other great part about this team and this coach is that we just had enough magic to last the next 30 years, and probably won't have to wait that long for the next batch.
-- Along the same lines as the above, let me tell you this. Steve Yzerman - hockey fans know the name. Absolutely revered up here in Detroit. The man could drive a tank through a nunnery while firing live puppies out of the cannon and half of us would blame the nuns and the other half, the puppies. Living legend. He is to Detroit what, say, John Elway is to Denver, Larry Bird is to Boston, and so on. So it's with a small amount of pride that I say I was there the only time he was ever booed in Detroit, and furthermore took part lustily.
It was at his number retirement ceremony. Stevie Y got up there when it was his turn to speak, and because he's Stevie Y and shits more class and humility than anyone you care to name, talked about how it really wasn't his night, it was all thanks to his teammates. Right, Stevie. 692 goals, 1,063 assists, one each of the Conn Smythe, Selke, and Masterton trophies (this latter is for the player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey"), 6th on the NHL's all-time scoring list, three Stanley Cups, and it had nothing to do with you. Whatever. Also, boooo.
This is how I felt listening to Tony say he "didn't deserve this" or whatever he told the sideline reporter lady. Listen, Tony. You da man. I know you're a God-fearing man, but if you don't deserve this, who does?
-- Tony's attacking of the zone was masterful. Syracuse started with heavy on-ball pressure and denial of wing-to-wing passes. Relatively heavy for a zone, at any rate. UVA was looking, however, to go inside, and did as much as possible. So much so that players were passing up fairly open looks at the three, and forcing it inside to what looked like a worse look. All else being equal, would you rather have an open Brogdon three-point attempt or the ball in Akil's hands, ten feet from the rim and right on the baseline, guarded by shot-blocker extraordinaire Rakeem Christmas?
I'll take the Brogdon three any day, but that wasn't the game plan; the obvious strategy was to force-feed the post and look for anything they could get from the free-throw line in. Jim Boeheim then made exactly the half-time adjustment Tony wanted: he tightened up his zone to deny the post, at which time the launch pad was open for business. UVA took five threes the entire first half; they needed just five minutes of the second half to take that many and finished with 11 in the latter 20 minutes. Generally you figure, when you play a zone defense you try and loosen it up with a barrage of threes so you can do the work you want to inside; UVA went the opposite and saw it work to perfection.
-- Occasionally something is made of the "unbalanced schedule" that UVA has. The schedule has been unbalanced since 2005, of course, and nobody decided to taint anyone else's championship with such accusations. In 2007, when UVA went 11-5 and shared the title with UNC, nobody seemed to mind that UVA played 10-6 Maryland and VT twice and UNC only once, but anyway that's beside the point. The point really is this. Pick any team you like among the contenders - Cuse, Duke, UNC, Pitt. Find all the instances of any of those teams playing each other twice. Let them replace one loss with a win against a scrub team. For example, Duke and Syracuse - we'll let them each take credit for the win against each other and wash away the loss. Still, none of them can catch UVA. Duke isn't 12-4 because of too many games against Cuse and UNC. They're 12-4 because they failed to take care of business against Clemson and Notre Dame.
-- Storybook Saturday was so compelling that it trashed preconceived notions of what the storyline would be.
Let's talk lax. I said "show me" before the game. I consider myself shown. UVA won by dominating the stat sheet and letting the goals come. More than 3 out of 4 faceoffs, and almost 5 out of every 7 ground balls, went UVA's way. If the ball's on the ground, and you have a 5-in-7 chance of getting to it, you're going to get your way more often than not.
This is not the sort of thing that will happen every game, but we've now also managed to establish that UVA has a damn offense. You got two guys on pace for 50-goal seasons without even counting the tournaments. They're gonna need it, as they're getting no help from the defense and goalie in particular,
-- 32 is the new 6. James Pannell has 22 goals and is a damn sophomore. But what got Steele Stanwick comparisons running through my head was a goal he scored in (I think) the second quarter. While the announcers were all fired-up about his "question-mark dodge" which reminded them of his brother Rob, I was more interested in the shot itself, sort of a twisting jump shot that snuck into an impossible corner of the net. Stanwick announced his presence as a freshman with exactly that sort of otherwordly accuracy.
-- It's very, very difficult to assess a goalie's play on any individual shot, in real time. It's real easy to look at 5 saves and 12 goals and not be real happy with the result, but I got at least one chance to find a spot where Matt Barrett ought to have made a save. On one Hakeem Lecky shot, the ball would've flown straight into the pocket of Barrett's stick had he just stood there like a statue (not that I advocate this as a strategy.) Instead he flinched, moving his stick away from the shot, and by the time he recovered it was obviously too late. Maybe he's overthinking these shots; regardless of the cause, I think we're deep enough into the season to declare this a Problem.
-- Cornell is next. Whatever they're ranked when they enter the game, it'll be too high. They've played three really bad teams so far and struggled to put away all of them. There's a very good chance UVA will be 7-0 and match their win total from last season halfway through this one. With VMI yet to appear at Klockner, getting that Cornell win would clinch, at a minimum, "team that everyone hates for getting into the tournament with a lousy record" status.
-- Keeping in mind that you actually have to work to make the ACC tournament this year, that was a very big win. Theoretically two conference wins should do the trick. With this offense, it shouldn't be at all impossible to find one more in four more conference games.