Final Exam Wilderness Journal: Day 2, 8:23 PM - Rations high but spirits already running low. The prospect of another ten days in this bleak and uninviting terrain has the entire party depressed. It was thought a brief soccer interlude might raise spirits enough to last the entire journey, but this proved futile. Scouts report another potential soccer interlude approximately a week's march away, but much of the party is apprehensive, as nobody knows how long it might last or whether it will even provide any relief. For the next week, however, we have no choice but to trudge on.
Yes, it's that time of year, and it's a little meaner this year than usual. UVA just finished two very entertaining basketball games in hostile environments, the kind of games that leave you wishing the next one was tomorrow, and instead we gotta wait while the players fill in blue books and scantrons. The perils of rooting for a school that behaves as a school.
As it turns out, I could easily have waited til after the VCU game to write anything about basketball, because it wasn't too far off a carbon copy of the Maryland one. UVA held the Havoc-ing Rams to 61 possessions, nine fewer than their usual average of 70. That actually means the game was 18 possessions shorter than the usual VCU contest. It's unsurprising that UVA would have more turnovers than usual against VCU, but the clash of styles is a UVA win when the possessions are a lot closer to UVA's average.
If, as I've said, each year's team takes on a new identity of its own, perhaps this year's is the newfound confidence this team exudes. Twice now the Hoos have gone into enemy gyms, neither of them easy environments, and played as if the place was empty. Even when Cavalanching hapless opponents last year, they didn't look quite as sure of themselves - it was as if the reason they were excitedly piling on the points was that they weren't sure when they'd get a chance to again. This year, they play like they know what they can do. Under a lesser coach this kind of confidence could get out of hand. Some teams, once they get to this point, look as if they don't mind losing because they assume it'll get fixed in the end, and look surprised when the clock runs out before that happens.
Tony Bennett, on the other hand, pushes a button and that's the end of whatever little run the opponent is making. UVA saw a double-digit lead erode to four, Tony called time-out, and in just over three minutes it was back up to fourteen again and the game was for all intents and purposes over. But of course it's more than that - Tony's mantra this offseason ("always thankful, never satisfied") is coming through loud and clear on the court. This team has no flashy five-star guys, no burger boyz, nobody who got a world of attention for not going to the NBA.** They're just a bunch of dudes playing ball. They're still KenPom's #3 team in his rankings, the best team in the country not named Duke or Kentucky. At this point in the season, I'll take it.
**This could certainly change once Justin Anderson starts getting credit commensurate with his play. KenPom has him as the 8th best player in the country right now. It's hard to imagine he can keep shooting .588 from three, but still - he's all over the court, he maintains a very low turnover rate, he makes nice passes, and he's clearly embracing the role of upperclassman and scorer.
-- It's awfully interesting watching the various free throw routines that these guys have developed, mostly over this past summer. Anthony Gill is the only guy I've ever seen who points his feet sideways. I keep waiting for the spin to go wrong on Mike Tobey's flip, and the ball go rolling at the ref. And Anderson's dispensed with the dribble entirely. But mostly I'm enjoying watching the ball actually go in.
-- The rotation twists and turns took an interesting direction against VCU; Marial Shayok saw just five minutes, Isaiah Wilkins none at all, and Devon Hall, who'd played 1, 2, and 5 minutes the previous three games, got in for 15. Looked pretty good, too.
-- A few of next year's OOC matchups are already coming out; UVA will play in the 2015 Charleston Classic, a perfectly solid tournament in a great location (not least because UVA is the closest school to the event.) Oklahoma State seems to be the other marquee team in the event, but actually it's Seton Hall that might deserve the most attention. The Pirates have several former UVA recruiting targets (Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina, Angel Delgado) and an up-and-coming team. UVA will also head to Madison Square Garden to play West Virginia. There's also the other end of the home-and-home with George Washington, plus of course a guaranteed Big Ten game (probably Maryland again, knowing our luck.) I highly approve so far. It might be nice at some point to take on a Kentucky or a Kansas, but I don't find the OOC schedule lacking without them.
-- Tremendous shame that Morgan Brian's career at UVA ends without a national title. It would've been more than fitting.
-- The men, though, get their crack in the College Cup next weekend. UMBC is the surprising opponent, having personally dispatched three of the four seeded teams in their bracket.