Well, me, when that tiny little knife in the pit of the stomach made its appearance on a Tyus Jones three-pointer shortly after a Justin Anderson miss on the same. Anderson's shot was thisclose to going down; Jones hit nothing but net, and the result was a six-point swing. No, it was more than six points - it was the entire spectrum of Duke's confidence. Jones gave them their fortitude back, ten seconds after it was two inches from disappearing entirely.
As much as I'd like to move that number one from the loss column to the rankings column, at least we know what it takes to beat UVA these days: six-of-eight shooting on three pointers, and all of the last four. After Anderson missed, that's what Duke did, en route to not missing a shot in the last four minutes of the game. You know what? Great. Duplicate that formula and you've finally figured out the trick to beating
The rest of the week - no disrespect at all to the opponents involved - was surprisingly easy. It's all relative, of course - it wasn't, like, Harvard-easy. UNC and Louisville put up a fight, albeit not for 40 full minutes. It's easier to do, of course, when one game is at home and the other is in one of the ACC less-intimidating atmospheres. (Seriously, is there a team anywhere else, outside of Chapel Hill, where the ratio of powerhouse-ery to crowd atmosphere is so huge?) Theory on this: these three teams are completely on another level athletically, above and beyond what UVA's gotten used to seeing the past month (or more) and it took a little time to get used to. When they did, which was right about halftime of the UNC game, the game slowed down again.
I've been including the upcoming NC State game in the stretch of doom calculations, but if you believe the above theory, it might be more of a blowout than I've been assuming. I mean, BeeJay Anya's a pretty good player, but once you've tried to score on Montrezl Harrell, can it be that much harder? I still think it's a dangerous game.
That said, the chances are excellent that UVA loses just one game the rest of the way at the most, which should worry a league that all sits at least two losses behind. Beating Duke would've been great and all, but there isn't a soul among us who wouldn't have taken two out of those last three, if offered beforehand. And UVA has held double-digit leads in all three games. Despite the loss, this was a test passed with flying colors so far; if they finish the final portion of it, another long and relatively relaxing stretch awaits.
-- It's been a while since I wrote this, so it was of course bound to rear its ugly head in a huge way: We still can't have nice things. Justin Anderson's fractured finger capped a very rough injury stretch (at least, I really hope that capped it) in which UVA lost its top scorer in basketball, top hitter in baseball, and top defenseman in lacrosse. Already thin from the transfer loss of Greg Danseglio, the lacrosse team really could not afford losing Tanner Scales to an Achilles' heel, but it did anyway. Joe McCarthy's back surgery leaves a gaping hole in the lineup. And of course, something had to be up when Evan Nolte started the second half.
Weirdly, even in a game where Anderson got hurt, Marial Shayok only got four minutes. I might automatically assume he and Nolte would pick up most of Anderson's minutes, if not for that stat. It's still logical, but Tony's been tinkering with the back end of the lineup a bit and I wouldn't make any hard-and-fast guesses for NC State, let alone four weeks from now. Good news is there's a reasonable chance Anderson is back for postseason play.
-- You have to love Syracuse, which could at any time have chosen to take a postseason sanction but chose to do it in the middle of a season that wasn't likely to land them in the NCAAs anyway.... and then throw a pity party for Rakeem Christmas's playoff dreams. Does it suck that Christmas's Syracuse career ends without any tournaments of any kind? Yes, but to avoid that, Syracuse might have had to feel a little more pain from the self-sanction. So Christmas gets thrown to the wolves, and just for a bonus, gets to be used by Syracuse as the face of their passive-aggressive campaign against having to bear such a brutal punishment. How cynical.
-- Sometimes the basketball gods are just. Not when they put Anderson's finger in a splint, no, but take Darion Atkins. Atkins dogged a Louisville player into a turnover just seconds after a defensive rebound, giving the Hoos the ball right back.... and then Atkins scored on the ensuing possession. Feed the guy who made the play - I like it.
-- I was reminded again why I like Doris Burke. 75% of sideline reporters ask the stupidest %@#&ing questions, mostly: "describe your emotions." Burke pinpointed a matchup she wanted to ask about - and made a good choice - and in doing so gave Tony Bennett an opportunity to sing the praises of a deserving player, which he proceeded to do.
-- Lacrosse starts the season the same way as last year: a one-goal win over Loyola. Now that the season is underway, that would be a good time to write a season preview, yes? This week. Short version of the game: offense good, defense eh.
-- I put together the next round of ACC simulations, but that's gonna wait til Tuesday also. So now here they are:
UVA is a frightening lock for the 1 seed; it'd take a mathematically unlikely face-fall to drop out of the top spot. What's a bit more surprising is the tight grip Duke has on #2, and UNC on #5. Neither have much of a schedule left, except each other. KenPom likes GT a lot more than the standings show, though, and UNC also has to visit Miami; that, combined with Duke's higher pythag, accounts for a lot of the difference. Fortunately, it makes sense; Duke owns the tiebreaker on everyone in the top 5 except for UNC, who they haven't played yet. By virtue of being the only team to beat UVA while the rest of the contenders have all lost, they're in great shape.
This is a great year to show off the excellence of the tourney format; five great teams looking for four double-bye slots. It might not matter early, because the first opponent will be a putz (either #12 or #13) and then you play the 4 seed anyway, but the extra game might de-freshen the legs a little as the tourney heads toward Sunday.
Me, I'd definitely welcome a Sunday rematch of last year's final. Both teams would be motivated by recent losses to the other, and the chance to beat Duke two years in a row would spark whispery but unmistakeable changing-of-the-guard talk. Not to be premature or anything.