It wasn't a perfect weekend. A perfect weekend would've involved a tidy clean sweep of Florida State, and the lacrosse team's win would've earned a trophy instead of a small shred of bragging rights.
I'll take it, though. I will always take it. Especially when two more ACC trophies are added to the case; the tennis teams brought home the hardware this weekend. I was honestly surprised to learn the women's tennis team had never won an ACC title before. I'd have guessed they had a few by now, if you'd asked. On the plus side, getting a first-time ACC title means there are only four teams at UVA that have never won an ACC title: volleyball, field hockey, and mens' and womens' golf.
That brings our title count to four (men's basketball, women's swimming & diving, and the two tennis team) this season, with a fully-expected rowing title yet to come and obvious contention for a baseball title still in the works. We won't catch Florida State this year, as they have seven championships, but c'mon - three of them are basically the same damn team (women's cross country and indoor and outdoor track.) No fair that we don't ever get to count indoor tennis.
And hey, at least we scored bragging rights over the Noles in baseball this weekend. Nick Howard is the star of the weekend as far as I'm concerned. Seven batters faced, seven strikeouts. That's just rude. Howard turned some perfectly good hitters totally upside-down; the Noles didn't even look remotely good against him. One of the better at-bats was turned in by Jameis Winston on Friday. When Jameis Winston looks like the best hitter of the inning, the other guys did something really wrong. And Winston got this distinction by being one of the few to actually foul off a pitch. Then he watched dumbfounded as a waist-high, straight-line fastball zipped merrily across the middle of the plate for strike three. The other guys brought their Swiss cheese bats to the plate.
At this point it's hard to make a case for anyone else but Howard as the top closer in the country. 15 saves - our bats have been just good enough to give him lots of chances and just bad enough to give him lots of chances. But the really nasty stuff: 43 Ks against 6 BBs. And he's been getting better as the season goes on. Nate Kirby is doing a ridiculous job, too, and Brandon Waddell - who started the season by giving up 6 runs in 4 1/3 - has worked his ERA all the way down to 2.90.
The weekend finally convinced Collegiate Baseball to stop being the last holdout among the five polls/rankings, and give UVA the #1 nod. Five rankings, five #1's for UVA. #1 in the country - and currently sitting in the ACC's 3rd seed for the tournament. No further proof is required for the fact that having divisions for baseball is monumentally stupid.
I turned the lacrosse game off in disgust during the second quarter, only to be overcome by curiosity, and turned it back on at some point midway through the third. That second period was perfectly emblematic of why this team has struggled. The first half, really. Matt Barrett couldn't stop a beanbag. Mick Parks gave up yet another faceoff win so clean that UNC's R.G. Keenan had but to run straight ahead til he arrived at the doorstep. And on one UNC goal - their second of the game, I think - a UVA defender watched the eventual scorer catch the pass, and then peeled off for parts unknown while the ballcarrier (Pat Foster, if memory serves) strode easy as you please into the vacated spot and potted the easiest goal of his life.
This is to say nothing of the pitiful clearing game. Awful decisions and half-assed passes turned the clearing game into a sloppy mess. One failed clear was an inexcusable 30-second violation - probably brought about by doing too much of a 180 from recklessness to an overabundance of caution. Fortunately, the Heels were even worse, particularly in the very crucial fourth quarter where they cleared two of six attempts.
The fourth also happened to be Barrett's time. He saved only 45% all day, but 100% when it mattered. Consistency is not Barrett's middle name, but there's a chance yet that we can be going into the 2018 season going "whatever will we do without that guy?"
I really think this team has a higher ceiling than it's shown this year. And effort is not the problem. This team has out-ground-balled everyone this year; in fact, they lead the nation in ground balls per game. Joseph Lisicky gets a lot of well-deserved attention for sucking up ground balls but it's not just grinding long-stick guys; that was UVA's leading scorer Mark Cockerton diving into the scrum for a loose ball, in front of an empty UNC net, and coming out with the crucial two-goal lead.
No, this team's problem is between the ears; they keep shooting themselves in the foot with mental breakdowns in all facets of the game. They shoot more with no backup behind the net than any team I've seen - and the X man will hang out blissfully by the side of the net when the shooter is winding up, instead of getting a head start on the backup. Several times a game I'll wish I could get inside the head of a defender and find out why he didn't consider the guy with the ball worth defending. And even when they were playing well against UNC, the passing was rather less than crisp. Either end of a pass might be the one to screw up the next one - maybe it goes sailing over someone's head, maybe it just gets ignored by the recipient. Eight seconds to go in a game where you have the ball and a two-goal lead, and you manage a giveaway. Silly.
This team would be a legit as hell title contender if they could just deal with some of this low-hanging fruit. They could very well find themselves in the Final Four - the draw I gave them in this week's bracketology happens to be an awfully favorable one, about as good as they could ever hope for, and set up beautifully for a potential trip to Baltimore. But they can't beat four good teams in a row with their brains working the way they do now.
(Speaking of bracketology: I've finished a project of mine that perfectly calculates every team's RPI and all the RPI-related factors that go into bracketology too. All I have to input is wins and losses. Put in the results of one game and it calculates every change to every RPI in the whole system. What does this mean? Faster bracketology; I don't have to wait for the Internet to update itself before I can start. Now that it's conference tournament week I plan on pushing out an update on Thursday and then every day unti Selection Sunday.
Even better: I should be able to adapt the thing for basketball and baseball and do my own bracketology for those sports, too. Baseball won't be ready in time for this year's tourney, but next year, wait and see.)
I guess we have to spoil things by finishing up with football. It's attrition season, and you expect to wring your hands occasionally when someone with untapped potential transfers out or washes out, what have you, but you don't really ever expect your top passing-game weapon to say see ya later.
Jake McGee's transfer comes as a surprise to us in the outside world, but word floats around the tubes that he and Tom O'Brien got along like Tom and Jerry from day one, and that just maybe that move to "TE/WR" was mostly about having McGee get his coaching from Marques Hagans instead of TOB. That is rumor, but it passes my smell test.
There's no way to put a positive spin on any aspect of it. Demeitre Brim also announced his transfer this past week, to Central Florida, and that was easily explainable by the fact that he's a Sam backer and nothing even remotely like the kind of Sam backer that Jon Tenuta is using. Is it a shame we couldn't finagle his considerable athletic potential into usefulness on the field? Sure. But it's also a cost of doing business.
McGee, on the other hand - they're selling his jersey FFS. He's plastered all over all kinds of advertising and literature. That the coaches allowed that to happen despite knowing he might leave is at a minimum a lousy grasp of PR; that McGee made it plain that he thinks Tight End U can't do a good job of preparing him for the NFL, that is just about as bad a piece of pub as we could've asked for.
The passing game is now short a terrific mid-range and red-zone option, and McGee's receiving skill set will not be easily replaced. Perhaps more importantly, Mike London's regime just took a major blow to the solar plexus of its image.