The best basketball in the world isn't played in the NBA Finals, or the Olympics, or twenty minutes before One Shining Moment. It's low-major conference championships. Think MAAC, NEC, Atlantic Sun. It's played in college gyms that are actually gyms and not a lot bigger than high school ones, and by players whose professional basketball future is in, like, Belgium, at best. It's not nearly as skilled as what you see on the red carpets in Lexington or Chapel Hill or Lawrence. It can be a brickfest. It might be a foulfest. But nobody, anywhere, plays harder than a guy in his senior year shooting for his one and only NCAA tournament bid. Something about the difference between getting to play on the biggest stage and be kings for a week with the chance, however miniscule, to be the toast of the world for slaying Goliath..... and walking off the court and leaving your basketball career behind forever. It really motivates. Fans scream their asses off, coaches coach their asses off, and best of all, players really, really play their asses off.
There was a little bit of that going on Sunday night. No, it's not quite the same in a basketball palace like the JPJ, during the regular season, when the reward is just another step toward the not-entirely-necessary honor of a #1 seed in the conference tourney. But still.
But still, indeed. Maybe it says something about this team that they're digging that deep even without that much on the line. I mentioned a line from an ESPN column about a month ago that said this is a team that likes its games to be rock fights. I (still) don't care what Myron Medcalf says, it's impressive and it's damn good entertainment to see some of the team looking like they were in a literal rock fight and the rest of them decide it's not going to stop them.
These Florida State games have all been kinda like that, come to think of it. It's the second year in a row that a UVA guard has gotten concussed in the middle of one.** Leonard Hamilton's teams rarely seem to let you off easy. I know there's hand-wringing over the offense, and it's not all unjustified, but most of our games against FSU end up with both teams at less than a point-per-possession. FSU makes you earn it. And they're bigger and longer than the Hoos, which makes the performance in the paint that much more impressive.
**The school's evening press release said Perrantes suffered a mild concussion. I'm thinking it's either really mild considering they let a concussed guy back out on the bench in uniform in front of bright lights and a raucous crowd.... or else that's a really bad idea. Or both.
-- Evan Nolte is suffering from Sammy Zeglinski Syndrome, which means he can't shoot a lick right now and that means the fans are in his grill for being useless. All I know is he's the guy Tony Bennett has chosen to start the game in Justin Anderson's stead, and he's the guy getting the crunch time minutes. Which means he's doing something right.
-- Perrantes is important - huge, even - for the long term, but he actually wasn't having much of an impact last night. I'll quantify exactly what his loss meant: three points, which is the bucket that FSU scored when Perrantes's man found himself wide open as a result of his defender laying on the deck with blood gushing out of a brand-new orifice. UVA wasn't getting squat from the perimeter all day anyway, and losing their point guard made the offense less about open shots and screens and passes and coachy stuff and more about forcing the ball to the bigs and just letting them do posty stuff.
-- We're not the only ones staring down the barrel of the attrition gun, after Chris Jones's dismissal from Louisville for threatening his girlfriend. It's likely to be a big problem for the Cards. Almost all their scoring - 80% of it - came from a big four of Jones, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell, and Terry Rozier. Jones was 3rd of 4 in that group, and the starting point guard. Their first game without him (besides his original suspension) was last night in Atlanta, and Louisville barely squeezed past GT. They're almost dead-certain to be the loser in the five-team derby for four double-byes, and could even find themselves leapfrogged by a few teams like Pitt and NC State, who are two losses back but have way easier schedules.
-- Rutgers is a pretty bad lacrosse team, so beating them by nine goals is nice but nothing to get over-hyped about, even with a very nice performance by Matt Barrett in net. We'll see how the ACC schedule goes. But they do have a very good faceoff man in Joe Nardella, who won 63% of his faceoffs last year and only 9 of 19 against the Hoos. I'm duly impressed. And it was Jason Murphy, who had a lousy season opener, who did most of the best work, winning 8 of 11. Chalk up to fortunate clash of styles, or genuine optimism for the future? Well, Syracuse is next, with Ben Williams winning 47 of 67 so far this year. We'll find out.