March 23, 2015

The Day After




From the comments section of yesterday's Meltdown Post...

Not that the authors care about a sole reader, but this bitter attitude has really made me consider not continuing to read.

Here's what the readers I don't know and the anonymous posters need to understand about this blog: I write it for myself and for my friends.  I don't have ads on here; I don't get paid to write Wahooze.  If some passer-bys and other Hoofans find it compelling or find something worth reading, then great.  I'm glad.  But I do not care one iota if someone I don't know disagrees with my takes or wants to stop reading the blog.  It's here for you if you want it.  If not, adios.



Meanwhile, a friend of mine (who will remain nameless) posted an awesome, thoughtful response to my Meltdown, as follows...

I love the blog and I love Big K but I can't agree with this one. There is certainly a part of me that agrees with you and a huge part of me that is heartbroken. I hate it for the school, the program, the fans, the style of basketball, but even more I hate it for the players. These guys bust their butts and give it everything they have with countless hours in the gym working on their game while still trying to be a student, have a life, and deal with normal stress. They aren't super human and they have to play the game at near perfection and most of the time they come close.

I couldn't be more proud of the way they play, the way they carry themselves on and off the court and the way they represent my University. These guys weren't the elite players coming out of high school, they have worked together and sacrificed individual glory to play the best team basketball in the country. They went 30 and 4 this year. We lost to Duke by 6, Louisville by 1, UNC by 4 and Michigan State by 6. To have followed UVA sports for as long as we have, you are out of your mind if you aren't blown away by that. We weren't good this year, we were GREAT and we do it the right way. The NCAA tournament or ACC tournament isn't about who is the best or most consistent team for the year, it is about who gets hot at the right time. An off night (2-17 from 3 point range) to a team that matches up almost identical to us was a recipe for a loss. Nothing more, nothing less. We didn't get out coached, out hustled, or out classed. We had an off game, the ball literally didn't bounce our way, but it will. This team has been the best in the ACC for two years and with the high class leaders that we should have coming back and the pillars that the team is built on, I see no reason it won't compete again next year and for years to come.


Don't take this year for granted, it wasn't that long ago that we were lucky to make the NIT. Don't take the fun out of the ride, try to savor the beauty that we witnessed for much of this season and be excited about what Bennett and the players have done for the program. The kids give it their all every single game and they give me reason for hope.


Keep up the great work on the blog, don't let the sting of defeat wear on you too much. It is better to have love and to have lost than never to have loved at all.


Am I soft? Maybe but I'm a realist and as I can't let myself believe that 30 and 4, all the accolades (coach of the year, 6th man, all ACC, defensive players of the year, regular season champs) are for nothing. We are a legit basketball power house. The chips will fall in our favor.



Thank you, Anonymous Friend, it's important to keep this perspective.



I'm still bitter today, but it's starting to subside.  I'm getting over it, slowly.

Belly-up in the Big Dance, it's difficult to digest after a season during which we spent extended amounts of time ranked #2 in the nation and touted as the top challenger to Kentucky.

On the bright side, VCU and Maryland have been unceremoniously dumped from the Tournament, and we get to share the sour misery of unmet postseason expectations with Villanova, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State.

Meanwhile, the knife twists around in my belly when I consider Michigan State vs. Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen, when I consider the five other ACC teams still alive in the Tournament, and when I consider the fact that West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier, NC State, Utah, and UCLA advanced further than we did.

I likely won't watch another second of basketball in this Tournament.  I'll just check scores, hoping that the ACC returns to the Final Four and that Kentucky mercilessly crushes all comers (it would help me to know that the rest of the Tournament games were strictly academic to the eventual outcome).


It really is hard to poo-poo a 30-win season and ACC regular season championship.  Those are great accomplishments.  The arrow is still very much pointing UP for Virginia Basketball.


Meanwhile, there is this...



I cringed when I initially saw it.  "Tony won't like this at all."  But you know what?  Maybe this is exactly the kind of gauntlet-throw that the program needs to really, righteously find its fight for March 2016.

We bring back a ton of talent and experience.  Who knows if Justin Anderson stays or goes, but we add Jack Salt, Darius Thompson, and Jarred Reuter to the mix.  If we lose Anderson (or an end-of-bench transfer), I think Tony has a bead on a JUCO kid who can shoot, or maybe another transfer, or maybe an unknown 2015 recruit.

We lose Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte, and Anderson (if he holds off on the NBA) after the 2016 Tournament.  But London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, B.J. Stith, Salt, Thompson, and Reuter, along with a super-talented 2016 recruiting class will be in place to keep things going strong.

Our program has arrived.  The model is in place for sustainable, long-term success.  Virginia Basketball is a power.  We haven't experienced much success in the NCAA Tournament... yet... but I really do think it's coming.  Just have to keep fighting the good fight, I guess.

Who's ready for November?  Only eight short months away...



(Can we maybe just skip football and go directly right back to basketball?)


March 22, 2015

The Meltdown Post

I'll keep it short, sweet, and impactful.

1) Officially, the most meaningless 30-win season in college basketball history.  Vintage Virginia.

2) Malcolm Brogdon, I still love you, but you cost us this game.  Let that sad fact guide you for the next 12 months.  Maybe study a little less and work on your jumper a little more?  Just spitballing here.

3) My 38-year old, fat, sad, sack of shit self is more NBA-ready than is Justin Anderson.  He needs to come back for his senior season.  (I'll bite my tongue before I say something I'll regret.)

4) Nice tears, Tom Izzo.  Go die in a fire.

5) Brilliant officiating in this one.  Good to know that it's not just the ACC with the crooked refs, they're everywhere in the NCAA.

6) Hey Tony, how about recruiting some shooters?  How about recruiting some clutch scorers?  How about beating a good coach when it matters?  I love you, but you gotta do better, breh.

7) I am so fucking frustrated and disappointed, I can't even see straight.

8) Fuck this, I'm going outside to play with the kids.  Good luck stopping Kentucky, 22 other remaining teams.  I hope the Cats just steamroll the field from here on out.  In fact, I might even jump on that bandwagon for the next two weeks.  Would be cool to see perfection.

9) Fuck you, Virginia sports.  You've done it to me yet again.  25+ years, you'd think I'd learn my lesson and stop giving so much of a shit.  Now let me go check the baseball score in game 3 against FSU...

March 21, 2015

The Quest for Validation

That's what it really boils down to for me, I guess.  (But I'm also a very insecure person, in general.)  It's just really important to me that the team does something to prove that the 30 wins is real and meaningful, that our slow-em-down-and-grind-em-out system is better than just being able to snuff out the also-ran scrubs of the [currently very weak in the middle and bottom] ACC, and that the haters who are trying to scapegoat Virginia as what's wrong with college basketball are somehow proven wrong.



I said it earlier this month, and I meant it: Only the NCAA Tournament matters.  We didn't get the 1-seed, but we also didn't win the ACC Tournament.  So all we have to hang in the rafters right now is an ACC regular season championship... which is not officially recognized, and also a product of an unbalanced schedule in the conference.  So, asterisk.  30 wins is great and all, but it means very little without some postseason success to validate it.  Seriously.

Some Hoofans will try to convince you that that's not the case, that this season has already been a colossal achievement.  30 wins!  Wow!  They're wrong.  They're just further along in the process of circling the emotional wagons, making themselves more bulletproof against the heartbreak of the Tournament upset.



Consider what Mark Titus said about us after his visit for the Duke game:

Virginia fans are emotionally fragile.

Here’s something I didn’t realize: I’m apparently beloved by Virginia fans because I’m one of the few members of the national college basketball media who appreciates the Hoos’ style of play. I had no idea this was a thing until they treated me like royalty over the weekend. I couldn’t go anywhere in Charlottesville without Virginia fans offering to buy me a beer and talk about the Hoos. It was cool at first, but the more I talked to Virginia fans, the more I began to realize what was happening.

You see, Virginia fans are perpetually afraid. They’re scared of losing Bennett. They’re scared that maybe their team is overrated. They’re scared of an early NCAA tournament exit. They’re worried about what it means to see the most powerful power rankings in college basketball drop the Hoos to fourth this week. They’re scared that Virginia basketball will come crashing back down in the next few years, if not sooner. Virginia’s football team sucks and its basketball team was irrelevant for about 20 years until last season. Now the fans crave positive attention for their teams. This is why they embraced me so willingly after a few glowing remarks about Virginia’s defense, some links to Justin Anderson dunks, and an Evan Nolte joke. I guess the free drinks may have just been a courteous gesture, but I sensed a note of desperation in those pints. The Virginia fans were saying, “People barely even care about us when we’re good because they think we’re boring. Please don’t turn your back on us when we suck again. Because we will suck again. That’s how this always works.”

Relax, Virginia fans. Your team is still among the very best in the nation, with only three seniors on the roster. The future looks bright and the attention will be around for a while.

Unless Tony Bennett leaves. Then you’re screwed.



Titus nailed it.  Hoofans are the beaten dogs, victims of the Virginia Fan Condition, haunted by Rule 2(b), stalked by Murphy's Law.  We can't have nice things, we just can't.



We need the validation that only a run to the Final Four Elite Eight (I'm not trying to be greedy) can provide.  Michigan State stands in our way.  It's a revenge game for our guys, and I'm delighted that they get that chance.  Me?  I'm fucking terrified.  Because if we lose, this great season goes directly down the drain, and threatens to suck our entire program down with it.  (We're still in the embryo stage as a college basketball power, and I don't want to see the egg tumble out of the nest before it has a chance to hatch!)



As for the Virginia vs. Michigan State breakdown, here's how I think it boils down:

Virginia: A 5-seed team with 10-seed talent, coached up into 1-seed... that was shafted by the Selection Committee (fuck you) with a 2-seed and a 2nd round game against Tom Izzo.

Michigan State: A 5-seed team with 2-seed talent, hit by a lot of bad luck that dropped it to a 5-seed... that was shafted by the Selection Committee with a 7-seed and a 2nd round game against Virginia.

Tom Izzo is NCAA Tournament magic, until he isn't, which is usually the case when he brings in a team seeded lower than a 5.

Tony Bennett is a hot commodity, who has done wonderful things at Virginia after doing wonderful things at Wazzu.  But still, he has peaked at the Sweet Sixteen level, in 2014 at Virginia and 2008 at Washington State.  It remains to be seen if his system, his motivational prowess, and his mastery of the chess game is enough to beat a coach like Izzo on the big stage.  (Bennett has claimed Tournament wins over Coastal Carolina, Belmont, Winthrop, Oral Roberts, Memphis, and Notre Dame -- not exactly a murderer's row.  He has suffered Tournament losses against Kevin Stallings, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, and Tom Izzo -- all pretty good coaches, historically speaking.)

The Spartans are going to come in with the swagger and confidence forged from last year's win on top of a decade-plus of significant Tournament success.  They are going to try to beat us up and down the floor, scald us in transition, out-physical us, out-rebound us, out-tough us, and maybe most problematically, out-gun us from the perimeter.  To win, we're going to need our A+ defensive game, we'll need a grit fueled by the thirst for revenge and perceived disrespect, we're going to need to hit some shots of our own, and we're going to need our bigs to have a profound impact on the game.  We can win!  It's possible.  I'm not sure if it's probable.  50-50?  51-49?  49-51?

We'll see, I guess.



Reasons I'm Optimistic:
-- Justin is back!
-- Brog seems to understand that he needs to be assertive (though his second half against Belmont was sort of a shitshow).
-- We have more / better bigs than Michigan State.  Huge faith in Gill, Atkins, and yes, even Mike Tobey.
-- Our defense, much maligned over the course of the last five games, still has the potential to be the nation's best.
-- We are one of the few select teams in the country that can conceivably beat Sparty on the boards.
-- London Perrantes >>> Tum Tum Nairn.
-- I like our "big three" (Brogdon / Anderson / Gill) over Sparty's "big three" (Dawson / Trice / Valentine), even though the Michigan State guys can really shoot.
-- Michigan State is going to jack up 15+ threes.  If we can put hands in faces and get lucky and see them only hit about one third of those attempts, we win going away.
-- The revenge factor.
-- The hunger for validation.


It's a big game.  Huge.  Potentially program-defining.  At the very least, it's a game that can give us a big chunk of the validation we need, and the opportunity to go out and take what we want is what's so awesome about basketball in late March.  It's all on the line, Hoos.  Go get it.


GO HOOS!  I wish you the very best of luck in our quest for validation.


March 17, 2015

Belmont



I'm not worried about matching up with Belmont. Belmont should be worried about matching up with us.

None of their guards can come close to countering Brogdon's size and strength.

Who does [UVA transfer and current Belmont Bruin] Taylor Barnette cover?  He was a huge defensive liability when he was here, and I'm sure that hasn't changed much.  Licking my chops if he's on Perrantes, and even Nolte poses an athletic (not to mention size/strength) threat against him.  If Barnette's guarding London, he'll create a ton of offense for us.  If Barnette's guarding Nolte/Anderson, then we should expect a big offensive game from that spot in our lineup.

Bradds is a 6-6 slasher and their 2nd-leading scorer (14.3 ppg), but his game plays directly into the teeth of our defense.  Plus, he's not a good FT shooter (64%).

Their two bigs go 6-8, 215 and 6-8, 210.  Our guys go 6-11, 253 / 6-8, 234 / 6-8, 230 / 6-8, 205 (Wilkins).  We'll be able to knock them around like rag dolls. We will feast on their soft underbelly in the low post.

The only guy to really worry about on that roster is Craig Bradshaw, and Brog's got that cover.  You know, Malcolm Brogdon, best perimeter defender in the known universe?  Yeah.

Barnette and the stretch-4 (Nick Smith) might hit some threes, but that's to keep the deficit inside 20 points, not to beat the Hoos.

Shayok, Wilkins, and even Hall should be able to rotate in and find some favorable matchups.  We might have to go with one true big, but our guards and wing players should be able to make plenty of hay.

I was initially nervous about Belmont's perimeter game (they shoot 26.3 three-pointers per game, and make 10 of them, 38%), but not any more, not after looking things over.  I think we are going to eat this team alive.

Hoos 74, Bruins 49.


March 16, 2015

I ain't skeert.

When I first saw the bracket, I said:

"Oh crap, Belmont can shoot."

And then I said:

"Michigan State?  Again???  WHATTT???!?!?"

But I think know we survive this weekend and get to the Sweet Sixteen.  Here's my logic.

1) Belmont is a low-rent Davidson, and we worked that particular Rubik's Cube on December 30th, mostly by feeding the post.  You'll recall, Anthony Gill went wild against the Wildcats, to the tune of 25 points and 13 rebounds.  Since that time, Darion Atkins' offense has rounded into form, and Isaiah Wilkins has emerged as a player worthy of time.  We have the bigs to punish Belmont down low.  They'll make some moonshots to keep it somewhat close, but we'll grind them down and knock them out.

2) Michigan State's Tom Izzo is a wizard who KNOWS how to win in March.  We all know this!  But consider... Izzo is 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament when he brings a team seeded any lower than 5.  (The one exception is 2003, when Sparty rode a 7-seed to the Elite Eight.)  So he's 3-5 when his team is lower than a 5-seed.  They're a 7-seed this season.  Hell, maybe we should be taking a closer look at Georgia!

3) Even if we do end up facing Michigan State, I think that's a game we'll win.  Our defense is better, our players more experienced, and we'll have the chip on our shoulder from the screw-job the Selection Committee gave us and the revenge we want for last year's tourney exit.

Sweet Sixteen, here we come.



Wahooze Bracket Challenge

Wahooze Nation,

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