The week wasn't what we all hoped it would be with the Hoos going 2-1 and dropping another game on the road. But despite what you might have been led to believe reading social media and message boards, the week wasn't all doom and gloom either. Let's take a look back From the Rafters.
1) Hoos notch another elite win - College basketball is all about the resume and with their 66-58 win over the Miami Hurricanes last Tuesday night, Virginia picked up their fifth win on the season against Kenpom top 45 competition. In addition to taking down the 12th rated Hurricanes, Virginia's wins over Villanova (1), West Virginia (6), Notre Dame (31), and California (42) are among the most impressive in the country. In fact, only Iowa has more top 45 wins with six than the Cavaliers five (Villanova also has five). Obviously the losses hurt, as among the Kenpom top 10, Virginia has the most losses with four. But once you get to March, I want to know you beat, and so far Virginia is coming up with a mighty nice collection of wins.
2) The emergence of Devon Hall? - Since earning the start in the Florida State and Clemson games, Devon Hall has shown that he could that player outside of the big three (Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon, and London Perrantes) to be relied upon as the season goes along. In the two games he started Hall averaged 8.5 points, two assists, and three rebounds. While that isn't a huge stat line, it was his aggressiveness, looking for his own shot, and hitting a couple threes that really stood out. Should he continue the solid play, Hall will provide the Cavaliers a nice third option at guard, the type that can take a team far come March.
3) Some sense of urgency - If you've followed Virginia closely over the last two seasons, you'll agree that one of the team's strengths has been its ability to be completely cool under pressure. That has allowed the team to remain calm when facing deficits and able to handle adversity such as playing without their some of their best players (Perrantes's concussion and appendectomy, Justin Anderson's hand and appendectomy). However it's also that calmness that drives fans nuts when it contributes to slow starts or large deficits that the team is just not able to overcome. So it was refreshing this week to see a little bit angst among the charges trying to drum up any sort of emotional energy to right the ship. It started with Tony Bennett's post game press conference after the win over Miami. Instead of relishing the team's win over a top ten team, Bennett made very direct statements regarding his team's deficiencies on defense stating that defensive identity wouldn't be compromised for the sake of improved offense. Then after the difficult loss to Florida State Perrantes was quoted saying that some "guys need to step up, outside of three that score" and that it isn't about "x's and o's anymore, it comes down to heart, energy." Those were pretty pointed words from a player like Perrantes on a team like Virginia. Then the week culminated in a players only meeting targeted at ensuring that the team regains the confidence this team should have as they are one of the best teams in the country.
1) Road woes continue - Unfortunately for Virginia, the whole body of work is taken into account when it comes to post season seeding, and despite the quality wins noted above, Virginia's inability to get things done on the road is creating perhaps the most paradoxical resume in all of college basketball. Virginia has one of the best collections of wins in the country, however, their losses are befuddling. Of the top ten teams in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, not only are their four losses the most of any other team, but three of those four losses came against teams ranked outside Kenpom top 60. No other team in the top ten has more than one. While the wins are nice, if Virginia can't beat the teams it should on the road, then the Committee won't have any other choice than to relegate the Hoos to a seed not likely fitting their skill and potential.
2) Three point defense - It's well known that the way to defeat the pack line defense is to have a slashing guard who can penetrate and cause breakdowns or you just get hot from three and jack up shots that somehow manage to go in. In fact the pack line invites the three point shot with the understanding that it will be low percentage as there will be a hand in the shooter's face. Perhaps it is just anecdotal, but this year more and more of those three pointers seem to be falling, and at the most inopportune times. The stats do bare it out though as this year teams are shooting 35.1% from three against Virginia, good for 213th in the country. That also represents the worst three point percentage against since the 2011 season. While three point defense is somewhat arbitrary, the trend is unsettling. Combined with the breakdowns in the interior of the pack line, it could be that teams are invited to shoot the three, and getting better looks in the process.
What to watch for
1) Hoos hit the road - After taking on the Syracuse Orange at home, Virginia will travel to Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. While the Deacs rank 116th in Kenpom, they do own wins over Indiana, UCLA, Arkansas, LSU, and NC State. Danny Manning has the team heading in the right direction, but this game is less about the opponent and more about Virginia being able to take their game away from John Paul Jones. Luckily for the Hoos, winning in the ACC has been problematic for just about everyone not named North Carolina, so picking up a road game they should win will be crucial in getting the Hoos back up atop the ACC standings. It will ultimately come down to the little things such as turnovers, defensive rebounding, and converting opportunities on the offensive end. Do those things, and the Hoos will be just fine.
Virginia tips off against Syracuse at 7 p.m. on Sunday in a game that will be televised on ESPN2. This game has been moved from Saturday due to the impending doom about come upon Charlottesville. If you're in Charlottesville, be safe and stay warm. If you're at home join us in the game thread. Then due to the Syracuse game being rescheduled, on Tuesday, the Cavaliers travel to Wake Forest for a 7 p.m. tilt on ESPN3 (this game was originally scheduled for Monday).