This was a rotten weekend to be a Panther. The Super Bowl did not go their way, the NHL's Florida Panthers lost on Saturday, and so, believe it or not, did most D-I basketball teams of that nickname.
In the case of the Pittsburgh variety, it was cruelly done. Malcolm Brogdon returned to the building where two years ago he shanked the hopes and dreams of a raucous crowd with a buzzer-beating three, and this time gave them no reason to stay excited for that long. Brogdon put 21 points on the board and extended his team's winning streak to six.
This is what a top-ten team is supposed to do, repeatedly. I also did say, a little while ago, that the ACC is supposed to be this minefield of obstacles, and those two statements don't seem to jibe at first glance. But you're not one of the top teams in the conference if you keep stepping on the mines. And if and when you do rise to the top, as UVA has been doing the last couple weeks, you become that top-ten team. I recall, in the days B.T. (Before Tony), even when UVA had a good team, the elite teams (mainly the Tobacco Road ones) would still come in, generate a lot of buzz around Grounds, and then generally bomb us back to the stone age.
Life on the other side of those trenches is pretty good. For two successive weekends now, an opponent of perfectly good standing in the conference has welcomed UVA to their gym, packed the house and legitimately fired up the crowd, and then skulked out with welts on their backside. UVA hadn't held an ACC opponent under a point-per-possession all year, until they did so at Louisville, and now rides a three-game streak of doing so. That's twice, in case you lost count, in someone else's full and very loud gymnasium. Should they shut up three road crowds in a row, it would be the most satisfying road win of all time.
Actually, this is just the right week to really get the chemistry perfected. VT visits on Tuesday and then the Hoos are in Durham on Saturday. Getting it right against Clemson is fine, but not every win is created equal. A couple months ago I prematurely declared the chemistry experiment finished, and UVA ready to open up with both guns. They were not. This time around, with the defense much more locked in, they just might be.
-- One reason I have legitimate hope for the chemistry this time around is the play of the bench in the second half. During a roughly five minute run with all of UVA's stars on the bench (Brogdon, Gill, Perrantes) UVA stretched the lead against most of Pitt's starters. I was even leery of seeing them subbed back out - sometimes you just roll with what's working - but the starters came back in nice and fresh and picked up right where the subs left off.
-- I don't think I've ever seen UVA be the beneficiary of such a clearly bullshit call as the offensive goaltending the refs (with Jamie Luckie in charge, natch) slapped on Pitt. Not only was the ball four inches off the rim, it was part way below it.
-- The Louisville game was even worse in the refs department. The crowd was clearly pissed, and they mostly had a right to be, except that they were getting their fair share of nonsense calls too.
-- I still can't decide whether Ike Wilkins should develop his big-man game or small-man game. Is he a really big frontcourt player who can post up and guard down low, or is he a smallish stretch power forward? Where he plays on defense strongly suggests the latter - but then, look at all the jump shots he makes, or that pass to Gill for the dunk on a fast break. Evan Nolte has at times been used on both sides of that equation, and Wilkins probably will over the next couple years, too.
-- I'm not very wild about the three-game football series with ODU that UVA just announced. You can put me in the camp that says we have very little to gain and a great deal to lose. Lose just one of those games and you hand ODU a great reason to keep all those Tidewater players right where they are. It's not like we should need to play a game in Norfolk to establish a recruiting presence there. That series doesn't start til Bronco's third season, though, so hopefully the team has a culture change well on the way by then. And if I still lived five minutes from the ODU campus, which I did, ten years ago, I'd be all about the idea. As I'm sure 757 Hoos are right now. It's not all bad, but I think there are better scheduling ideas out there.