So to be completely frank, if this terrific win streak must come to an end at some point, I'd prefer just about anywhere but Blacksburg. So it was with a little trepidation that I watched the Hokies take a ten-point lead in front of a Cassell Coliseum crowd that wasn't precisely packed to the gills, but was a lot fuller and louder than it's been for most of the season.
This is normally the point where you'd think "but that didn't last for long," but truth is it did. Various reports of the game call it a rally. Nothing of the sort happened. A rally implies a flurry of activity, a swift change in fortunes. The Hoos just stopped letting VT score, is all. VT stopped hitting shots they'd been hitting, they went back to giving the ball away a few times (like they'd done in the first half) and a glacial eight minutes after VT was up ten, the lead finally disappeared completely. There was no Cavalanche, just a big, 11-minute stop on defense and a fun play or two along the way.
It illustrates a philosophy of Tony's completely: you better play defense if you hope to come back from a deficit. Offense will happen if you don't panic, but you sure as hell ain't closing that gap if the other guys keep scoring.
So the march continues. One imagines it'll stop in the next couple weeks. Four very difficult matchups present themselves: Duke and Louisville roll into town, and the Hoos make two trips to the Triangle for UNC and NC State. KenPom says the UNC game is the toughest left on the schedule, being as it's on the road; I think it's the two home games that are the toughest matchups on paper, but the Hoos have been playing much better at home of late than on the road. Georgia Tech was mercilessly ground into powder because UVA had a home crowd behind them and the Jackets are pitiful shooters from outside four feet.
No league has as many legitimate national title contenders as the ACC, and UVA's schedule is the streakiest of any of them, so it might be fair to say these next couple weeks will be the longest, toughest stretch faced by any of the country's best teams. Even in the Big 12, which is looking a little like the ACC used to, 15 years ago. ESPN's Dana O'Neil did a rather awkwardly-premised article that boils down to "ACC and Big 12 teams will beat each other up and most of the rest of the country will coast."** If that goose egg comes out the other end unscathed, the hype machine is going all the way to 11.
**I thoroughly love the characterization of UVA as a "veteran team that actually likes games to be rock fights." That's a good identity. All we need now is a recruit who's been called "Psycho T Junior" and a Kiwi kid who thinks it's rugby. Where can we find guys like that, I wonder.
-- Malcolm Brogdon had a fantastic little layup against Georgia Tech where he decided on a change of plan midair. It was a damn familiar-looking play:
Even more similar in motion, in fact. Except for the finish.
(Yes, I'm gonna let you stew on it if you're drawing a blank on the bottom play.)
-- Buzz Williams is amusingly demonstrative, yes, but as much as he was on the case of the refs, I'm wondering if he realizes offensive fouls do exist in the rulebook.
-- Buzz is likely going to turn VT into a not-laughingstock, maybe even do what Seth Greenberg only ever did once, and get them to the tourney. He might not even leave for so-called greener pastures; Whit Babcock appears to actually mind being a basketball backwater, and will give him an ACC contract with an ACC budget for assistants and upgrade his buildings to ACC-quality facilities. Even seeing that is worth it, because of the gift of Marial Shayok, who looks like the future of UVA ball. He's got the scoring versatility that sometimes takes years to develop.
-- Speaking of developed scoring ability, man it would've been cool if Darion Atkins hadn't had shin splints that set his development back light years. The guy wearing #5 now for UVA is the guy that Tony Bennett and Mike Brey fought a pitched recruiting battle over, back in 2010. There are some faint similarities to Mike Scott showing through, the way he likes to operate on offense in a range ring around the net, the way he sometimes says, "ok, you want me to shoot this, I'll shoot it," and knocks it right down. Senior year has been incredibly good to Atkins, there's no doubt about it.
-- GameDay notwithstanding, I'd rather play Duke this Wednesday, all things considered. Coming off an emotional win and heading on the road, from an intangibles perspective there are few riper upsets than Notre Dame over Duke this week. I think they'll get a cold-water reality check in South Bend, and I'd rather be the team giving it to them than the team right after.
-- North Carolina and Wake Forest are charter members of the ACC, and have shared a conference since 1936 when Wake joined the Southern Conference. It's about an hour and a half drive between the two schools. They first met in football in 1888 and have played 105 games against each other. That meeting in 1888 was the first college football game in the state of North Carolina. So it makes perfect sense that they'd want to play each other more than once every goddam seven years. Nice college football world you've delivered us, O oligarchs of the sport. Throw bread and circuses at the drooling masses in the form of a playoff thing, and meantime make sure you set everything else up to make the least sense possible.
Of course, I don't gripe without offering a solution (much) and I've already put forth a great idea to fix the problem. The best idea.
-- It was interesting to read about WR transfer T.J. Thorpe in this Jeff White article; coming to UVA was already on his mind (and leaving UNC was already decided) even as he was catching the game-winning touchdown against in October. That kind of thing is probably more common than is ever reported, especially in basketball, but it's rarely admitted.
-- Lacrosse season is here sooner than you think, so it's a good time to loosen up for it by starting with opinionz on the newest rule changes:
* Faceoff rule changes: They'll be just about transparent to the vast majority of everyone watching the game. Former FOGO guys might get interviewed by Inside Lacrosse or something, and air their gripes or praises, but nobody else will see a difference. Cleaning up faceoff play is generally always welcome, but most of the time when a faceoff violation is called, nobody ever sees what happened anyway. This won't change anything.
* Timeout changes: If the ball is to be restarted from inside the field of play, such as on an offside call, only the team with the ball can call timeout. Nobody really was complaining about that, but it's a small positive tweak nonetheless.
* Phase-in of a requirement to have a 30-second shot clock displayed for when stall warnings are given out; previously, the refs kept the time themselves and the players were left to guess. I emphatically don't want a shot clock in lacrosse, but "some schools can't afford them" was always one of the lamest arguments against them. Spend a couple hundred dollars, man. Not having the clock on the field was like having basketball's block-charge arc in the rulebook but not on the court, and the same bullshit poverty reason was given for not painting them on. This is both a positive step for the rules as they're written now, and a huge negative step in that it smells strongly of a precursor to having the full-time shot clock instituted for good.
* You can now land in the crease after scoring, provided you didn't leave your feet before you shot. Fine, good, dandy, because invariably you'd see about three to five perfectly good goals a year called back for that, and they shouldn't be. Good compromise between not letting people just launch themselves and not forcing them to make like the Flying Wallendas around the crease.
* Addition of an over-and-back rule. Used to be they'd either require you to go through the clearing clock again, or put on a stall warning if you were just being stubborn about sitting on the ball. Now you lose the ball right away, like in basketball, and this is suddenly a really dangerous thing to do because it's a quick restart and the ball is already in your defensive half with a wide-open field to play with.
* Last year for these jerseys, because in 2016 your numbers will have to contrast. Never liked those.
-- With a big basketball game this Saturday and lacrosse and baseball fast approaching, I feel a few midweek posts coming on.