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.


  1. Speak. On. It. Could not agree more. This is a results-driven sport, and, like it or not, the most important results are those that occur in the NCAAT (and ACCT to a lesser extent).

    30 wins two seasons in a row, amazing result. Back-to-back ACC regular season champs (not official, schedule blah blah), amazing result. Regardless, these are less important than Tournaments. Smaller sample size in terms of games be damned, it's the obvious truth. Miami, flash in the pan. If we don't advance in the NCAAT, that's all people will call the Hoos until we do something.

    Time to grow some onions and smack someone in the mouth when it matters (we did it to Duke last year, and we can do it again). I have 100% faith that this team can do it. As the great sage Darion Atkins once said, "it's going to be a dick swinging context." Let's knock someone out.

    You got me all fired up Kendall! Love the post (and blog overall).

  2. I've commented before, and even though you're definitely welcome to your opinion, I'll disagree again. The tournament is definitely important. Definitely the most important even. But 30 wins cannot be taken away. We've earned it, and we're the real deal. One game of cold shooting can't take away what we've done. I refuse to give anyone who says otherwise any validation.

    That being said, the "beaten dog" thing is right on. It pains me to admit it, but I go into every game not hoping that we win, but hoping that we don't lose. It's a tough life as a Hoo fan. Someday we'll shake that. I'm confident. But results alone are not the way to change that: it's a change of perspective. If we continue to wait for the "experts" to validate us, we're never going to be happy. The players don't care what the media says about us. Why should we?

    Bottom line: we're good. Win or lose tomorrow, or later in the tournament, that doesn't change.

    ...that said, I'll be pulling hard tomorrow for us to get our revenge. We may disagree, but we're on the same page. GO HOOS!

  3. Another year another terrible call that helps msu win.