|Tony Bennett's team must be tournament-bound after seeing the way it played at Cameron Thursday night. (US PRESSWIRE)|
In a typically enlightening post from RealGM’s Dan Hanner earlier Thursday afternoon, he noted how well Virginia had played against college basketball’s better teams so far this year. In short, the Hoos have been among the best teams against the best competition.
You might not think that, though. You might think, Since Virginia’s new to the national scene, on a rebuilding plan that’s perhaps ahead of schedule, they’ve beaten pin cushions on the way to a 14-1 season. You’d be wrong in thinking that. If I’m wrong in thinking you how you were thinking, forgive me for a similar sin. Nevertheless, Check Hanner’s work. It’s great and opens up some of myster surrounding one of the nation's most surprising teams.
Thursday night, Virginia had its toughest test yet, subsequently falling at Duke, 61-58. Most will come away impressed that Tony Bennett’s team could put itself in a position to have two 3s in the final seconds with overtime in the balance. Both fell short. Eleven 3s in total clanked off the rim in the second half. None got through the hoop. That hurts. Oh for 11 from deep in a three-point losing effort isn’t morally reassuring; it’s maddening as hell.
Still, Virginia firmly established itself as a worthy No. 3 ACC team, a group that’s most likely going to navigate itself to its first NCAA tournament berth in five years — and the second in the past 11. The ACC, which saw Clemson fail to win at morbidly offending Boston College Thursday night, is on pace to indecipherably slice itself into, max, a four-bid league. Who that fourth team is — we'll be waiting a while to find out.
We know Virginia’s the third, though. Mike Scott is so much the reason for that. The player who should be on our top 10 Player of the Year chase feature is as valuable to his team as anyone in the country outside of maybe Damian Lillard at Weber State. Scott finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds. In most games he’s played this season, Scott’s walked off the floor with more points than anyone else.
When Duke’s involved in a game, and particularly when Duke wins, the story’s usually about the Devils. Not Thursday night. Thursday night was about how Virginia could handle itself in the toughest gym in the country and whether it proved to be in the room with UNC and Duke. For now, it does. 61-58 is seldom sexy but almost always speaks to the team keeping the score that low. Virginia's a much superior defensive team; it also dictated pace and made Duke play its game.
If you had looked at Ken Pomeroy’s pregame head-to-head comparison of these teams (and for those who love our game but are still holding out, the kingdom of information behind Pomeroy’s paywall is college basketball’s best bargain at $20/year), you would’ve seen a disparity in reds and dark greens that seemed to heavily favor Duke.
We’ll never be able to predict what’s truly coming after the tip, though, and I’m thankful Virginia kept it closer than anticipated. (Pomeroy’s model had a 67-59 Duke win. Pretty close.) The Cavs did themselves some good tonight, even if losses in conference are always a hard thing to get down. More than halfway through a season with a decent schedule, UVA is 14-2 and looking ahead to the two ACC Tech teams in the next 10 days.They'll win close and ugly and will most likely drop one or two bad ones. I can feel that coming. But Virginia's now the Wisconsin of the East. It's better than Wisconsin, too. More reliable now, anyway. There are holes and many areas Virginia can get better (in short: rebound the ball on the offensive end better and get a guy or two to stretch defenses), but with what they've got they're the ACC's third best. No doubt.