Monday, January 25, 2016

it's supposed to be this way

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.


Anonymous said...

So I guess we can have nice things everyone once in a while.

But the Wake win does sort of bring into focus how bad we've been on the road if that's what it takes to win. I accept your line of reasoning that there's a whole big improved ACC out there and we should adjust expectations accordingly. Granted too that it's better that way, it's great.

But what I don't like is watching UVA stumble along at times. It's not all the time, we do build up our share of 12-15 point runs where we seem to be pulling away, and we win lots of games. But this year, we give those leads right back and end up in close games, and alot of the time it's ugly. It's contested three pointers. It's contested two pointers! Contested two pointers on the run! Fallaway shots, lazy passes that get swatted into turnovers, chasing down shooters that turn into uncontested drivers, travels...ugliness. That's what feels so uncharacteristic, because it has been and is still a well coached team, and has been and often still is a disciplined team. Then it seems to fall apart for long stretches for no apparent reason other than overconfidence, that they'll get it back at some point. And on the road they can't, and frankly the Wake ending looked the same as the Va Tach ending with a hell of a lot more lucky breaks going UVA's way. And you can't count on that. Yes, Anthony Gill has lots of misses from two feet, but they're honest efforts that don't fall. I accept that. My favorite game last year was the loss to Duke, it doesn't all have to break our way all the time for the game to be enjoyable.

But the randomness of our bad misses, the ick factor, that's what rubs me wrong this year. And this crew seems capable of fixing that, so I have hope, but if they want to get anywhere in either tournament at the end of the year, they will have to tighten all that up, and they haven't done that yet.


Anonymous said...

I take it back.