I'm guilty of hitting the orange kool-aid just as hard as -- if not harder than -- everyone else. As Virginia fans, we have a lot to be proud of this season thus far. First-year head coach Tony Bennett has taken a program that went 4-12 in the ACC, 10-18 overall last season to a team that's currently 3-0 in the ACC and 11-4 overall. Things appear to be looking up for the Wahoo Nation. ESPN's Andy Katz named Virginia as this week's Team of the Week, saying that Virginia "can win at least six more ACC games…and right there to get an NCAA berth." But slow it down, Hoos. I have five reasons why we should sip, not chug, the kool-aid.
1. Virginia's out-of-conference schedule was weak at best. Pomeroy Ratings have our non-conference scheduled ranked 318th out of 347 teams. The worst part is that we didn't even win all of those. An argument could be made that this was before the Virginia players truly "bought in" to Tony Bennett's system, and that now that they have, things are really coming together. There's merit to this argument,but is there any reason we should have lost to South Florida by 17 points, really? That seems to be more than just an immaturity loss. It frankly raises a red flag. The other three losses to date, Stanford by 5, Penn State by 3, and Auburn by 1, are not as embarrassing, as Stanford and Auburn each gave 18-0 Kentucky a run for their money and Penn State ...well, Penn State hasn't done anything good, but at least the loss was only by 3. Still though, when you have teams like NJIT and Texas-Pan American on your schedule, it's hard to build a strong resume in case you're on the bubble.
2. Virginia may have beaten three ranked teams, but take a look at who they are. Let's first start with Georgia Tech. This is a quality win, folks. I'm not going to say anything to discount this win. You're looking at a squad who beat No. 5 Duke, came and lost at Virginia, and rebounded to dispatch No. 13 North Carolina. Georgia Tech is the real deal and they will finish near the top of the ACC. But look at the other two. No. 24 UAB -- that's Alabama-Birmingham for those of you who have never heard of them, the mighty Blazers -- is currently 15-2, with losses to Virginia and Kent State. On their resume are wins over Cincinnati and Butler, both teams that should make the tournament this year. But can you find anyone else on their list who will make the tourney? I'm having a hard time. Georgia (who also beat GT), perhaps? Their OOC schedule is almost as abysmal as ours. The other win is over No. 23 Miami. Miami is 1-3 in the ACC, with losses to UVA, VT, and BC, and a win over Wake. They were picked to finish 10th in the ACC, right above Virginia. So while they may have been ranked when we played them, they are quite frankly not the Miami squad of yesteryear.
3. Virginia has not yet had the pleasure of experiencing a loss in the ACC yet. I know what you're thinking. "But Brian, isn't that a reason for celebration?" Perhaps so, if you felt confident that Virginia will go undefeated in the ACC. Do you? I didn't think so. When Virginia suffers a conference loss, I'm curious to know how well the Hoos are going to be able to bounce back from it. Realistically, this loss could come as early as this weekend, when the Cavs travel down to Winston-Salem to face a Wake Forest squad that just lost 90-70 at Duke and faces Carolina on the road this week as well. It could be a dangerous situation for unsuspecting Hoos. But I would prefer that this loss come this weekend -- early in the season -- than mid-February when the resume really has to be rock solid for a tournament appearance. And as Andy Katz says, "Virginia is still fragile."
4. Our team is undertalented. It pains me to say this, but it is downright amazing, the wins we have had with the roster we have. On the Virginia squad is returning ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg, who shows no sign of any sophomore slump that so often comes with such an honor. But aside from that, we don't really have the true supporting cast that would be ideal if we were to continue our ACC run. In fact, two of our starters, Calvin Baker and Will Sherrill (Yes, I'm aware Sherill did not start this week), were former walk-ons. They're very good walk-ons, but that still says something about our talent level compared to that of the other quality ACC teams. Don't get me wrong. The crew we have now is certainly enough to get us into the tournament if they keep working together and following the system as well as they have. But at the end of the year, we won't have an All-American on our team. Sylven seems to be the only one who stands a chance at All-ACC, though perhaps Mike Scott may end up with an honorable mention. But if you can imagine having the talent of Duke, Carolina, or Clemson, coupled with the heart of the Virginia team and stellar coaching by Bennett...you're looking at a force to be reckoned with.
5. Don't expect the rest of the ACC to sleep through the remainder of the schedule. Don't forget that Virginia still needs to travel to North Carolina, a team that is struggling now but ultimately will get their act together and find a way into the tournament, and Clemson, a squad that looks solid top to bottom and will likely finish in the top 3 or 4 of the ACC. We also host Duke at the end of February, when every game matters -- and let's remember. This is Duke. Also on our schedule is a home-and-away against a Wake Forest squad that will likely finish better than .500 in the ACC and will make its way into the tournament pretty easily. To sum up, we don't exactly have the toughest of ACC schedules coming up, but slowly the other teams in the conference are noticing the Wahoos as we quietly continue to win our games, so keep an eye out as they begin making adjustments for Virginia.
Look, my bottom line is this. UVA is 11-4 right now and undefeated in conference play. We have every reason to be excited. No one expected this. We should by all means celebrate, and even brag to our frienemies. But don't yet whine because we're not in the Top 25, because there are a whole slew of reasons why we probably don't belong there quite yet. If Bennett and the 'Hoos can keep this up for another week or two, we'll definitely be up there. But until then, savor the moment and listen to that little voice in the back of your head that's saying "Don't get too excited -- we've seen this before."
In the meanwhile, I'm going to slow down the production on my Tony Bennett -- Champion of the World statue that I'm erecting in the middle of New York City.