Yeah, I know, I get it: losing at basketball to VT is crap, and will always be crap regardless of any extenuating circumstance at all. Also, there were higher expectations for this season than to start it off 2-3 in the ACC with losses in what should've been the easier road games on the slate. Also also, despite the Tony = Defense label they've earned over the past few years, this team has yet to hold an ACC opponent under 1 point per possession.
I could go on. Rocky start to January, is the point. I mean, we're a bit spoiled here. 4-3 in the ACC is not the worst thing that can happen to your basketball team. Dave Leitao won four ACC games in all of 2009. Last year UVA won as many ACC games as Leitao won in '06, '08, and '09 combined, so falling short of that standard is something you should kinda expect every so often.
Still, by the standards set the past two years, it's a rocky start, and there are more than a few reasons for it. And yet I can't help but enjoy it. Why? Cause this is the ACC's rightful way of life.
Dean Smith (I think) is credited with saying that every road win in the ACC is an upset. He wasn't aw-shucksing his team. He was talking about the ACC as he knew it - and how it should be. Certain teams in the ACC's history have had less trouble than others in winning on the road, of course, and Smith coached one of them. But the NFL and its "any given Sunday" mantra have had nothing on ACC basketball.
At least for the longest time. The early part of this decade was rough on the conference and its reputation for being a powerhouse and an impossible gauntlet of competition. In 1998, Florida State went 6-10 in the conference, lost in the first round, and made the NCAA tournament anyway - and promptly justified the committee's faith by upsetting #5 TCU (27-5, by the way) in the first round. That's conference respect. Fast forward to 2013, when UVA can go 11-7 in the conference, beat eventual 5-seed Wisconsin on the road, and hit the bricks for the NIT. That's, just, ouch.
A winning record used to be a punched ticket. A losing record could still get you in. Maryland went 7-9 in conference play in 2004 and wound up a four seed. Back when ships were wood and men were iron, the conference schedule was a minefield and conference tournament seeding was completely wide open.
That sort of abruptly stopped in 2011; since that season, six teams with winning ACC records have been left out of the tourney. '11 BC and VT; '12 Miami; '13 UVA; '14 Clemson; '15 Miami. I don't mind saying that UVA's meteoric rise has coincided with an ACC that provided a path to do so. Simply put, some games were gimmes if you were good enough, which would've been unthinkable in the past.
Now take a look at the state of the league this year. Boston College is pathetic and will stay that way all year, but they're one of only three teams under a KenPom pythag rating of 0.7. The last time that count was so small was 2010, when it was zero. And keep in mind, the league didn't expand to 15 until 2014, meaning that for three years the league had fewer teams than it does now, and yet more bad teams. In 2013, six teams (half the league!) were under 0.7, which surely didn't help UVA's cause any on Selection Sunday. And four, including 9-9 FSU (ranked just below Wright State in the national ranks), were under 0.6. Just last year, you still had seven teams (again, almost half the league) under that 0.7 mark.
In an environment like that, is it any wonder UVA kept blowing fools out? Oh, sure, the occasional good team got drop-kicked into tomorrow as well, just ask Syracuse on senior night, but for the most part, UVA blew out the bad teams and played the good ones pretty close.
Now, suddenly, the ACC is back to being a deathtrap on any particular night. UVA's record is frankly bizarre. Four wins against teams with a combined 18-11 conference record - including three who sit at 5-2. Three losses, against teams with a combined 7-13 conference record. All road losses and home wins. You can find examples of this all over the place, like NC State's blowout of Pitt despite the former being 1-6 and the latter being 5-2.
It's tough to have top-to-bottom excellence in a league with 15 teams, but the ACC is close - only two teams you could call gimme games, and I'd better be careful about saying that too strongly because UVA plays one of them on the road Tuesday. Joey Brackets has eight ACC teams in the field and two more on the cusp. ACC basketball is good again, in all the right ways.
Me, I love it. It assuredly means more losses for UVA, but the wins are a bit more meaningful. And the race will be the best it's been in a long time. I'd sure like to see the Hoos tighten up on defense and stop throwing silly skip passes that don't have a snowball's chance of reaching their target, but I'm also planning on enjoying the tightened-up competition. It's the ACC as God intended.