I didn't want to have to revisit this, and we're not going to for very long, but I can't really call myself a writer (even an occasional one which is how things are these days) without some kind of reaction to UVA's tourney exit. It'd be nice if I could just write the other stuff I wanna write and ignore That, but that'd be weird.
We were this damn close to a miniature form of basketball immortality, until the gut punch that looked at first like pure desperation. There are some armchair coaches floating around on the netz that suggest UVA should've done this or that against the zone, which is stupid because UVA was crushing the zone like a bug. It doesn't take a genius to see that the press is what won Syracuse the game, and for about five minutes of basketball it threw the Hoos for a totally uncharacteristic loop.
That's what the real nut-kick is: that was a tactic that should never have worked and wouldn't again. UVA is the team with Cali-cool at point guard and the most deliberate coach in the game and veterans everywhere within dead-cat-swinging range. With a big honking lead and less than a quarter to go to the Final Four, this is the team that you'd expect to dribble back around in circles unless a wide-open dunk presented itself without even trying. Time would roll off the clock and Syracuse would be forced to play the defense they'd been playing all game that wasn't working.
Perhaps Tony expected it, too, placing maybe a bit more trust in his players than was warranted - and this is a team that warrants a metric dumptruck of trust. Many coaches would've called timeout and settled their charges down a bit. Refocused the defense - and reminded them that no Cuse basket = no Cuse press. Tony elected to let them play, let them run, and one imagines he wishes he'd pulled the trigger on a timeout somewhere around the lead dwindling to about seven.
Nut-kick number two is that the First Book of Tony just slammed shut. I told you it was going to regardless of tourney outcome, I just wish it would've waited another week. This feels like losing the '14 CWS Final to Vanderbilt. You're welcome to take that as a mega-positive sign given what happened the following year, but one part of the reason that was so damn cool is that it was so damn unlikely.
Also, because it still featured a lot of players who deserved to hoist something just based on longevity alone. Many of the best stories - think Nathan Kirby, Kenny Towns - were still there. Of course, everyone wearing a UVA uniform deserves championships for multitudes of reasons, but the core seniors of this basketball team - Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte - also own like 75% of the deserving-ness, and that was their last chance. Such are the incredible cruelties of the tournament - if this was football, they'd at least have like a Sugar Bowl championship or something.
Bowl games are cool that way. You can have your cake and eat it too. That one time we crushed West Virginia, or held Larry Fitzgerald to like a catch or two, they'll always provide nice fuzzy memories. Blowing the BlueTurf Bowl to Fresno State elicits a "whatever." Winning is great. Losing is not that bad, it's just an exhibition anyway. Tournaments are different, especially this one. That Final Four would've lasted forever, but since we got so close and didn't grab it, so will not getting there. The Second Book of Tony will start in the fall, and the ceiling on it is unlimited, but the last chance to write the First Book is over.