When the final buzzer sounded in Virginia’s disappointing 68-62 loss at the hands of the Syracuse Orange, I felt numb. Not at the loss so to speak, or at the thought that we’d just watched the seniors play their last game in a Virginia uniform, but at how it’d happened. The Hoos led comfortably for much of the game, though even if they weren’t playing their best, some hot shooting from London Perrantes and another solid game on the interior by Mike Tobey was keeping Syracuse at a comfortable arm’s length away on the scoreboard. Fast forward just three short minutes of game time and the Orange had taken a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. So after the game I tried to talk myself through what happened, but then I just went numb. I couldn’t read anything on the game, I couldn’t bear venture into any message forums or social media (lest I would just get angry at people), so I just sat back and watched some TV.
Now that two days have passed, I've had a chance to take stock of the game and the season. I haven't come to any greater conclusions about what happened, but I have come away with a much greater appreciation for what this program stands for and what is has accomplished. I'm gonna switch it up a little and get the bad out of the way, move on to the good, and then look ahead. All this From the Rafters.
They just got caught up in it. Those were the words my co-worker used to describe how Virginia succumbed to the Syracuse press, and how ultimately they allowed a 16 point second half lead evaporate in just a matter of minutes. It's a very simple statement but one that makes the result all the more surprising.
All season long and over Tony Bennett's tenure, the Virginia Cavaliers have avoided getting caught up in it. In the crazy world of college basketball, sometimes it’s just that simple. For a two minute stretch (8:46 to 6:42), Virginia had six possessions on offense and faced a suffocating Syracuse full court press. None of those possessions lasted longer than 11 seconds of clock time and resulted in two layups, three turnovers, and a missed layup. And with that an 11 point lead turned into a one point lead. Just under a minute later, a one point deficit. For six possessions, Virginia got caught up in it.
Now, I don't know what would have happened if the Hoos didn't take advantage of the press and the two on one advantages under the hoop. Perhaps if they would have brought the ball out, run the offense, used some clock the outcome would have been different. Maybe it wouldn't have. All I do know is that for some reason for those two minutes, Virginia wasn't themselves. They just got caught up in it.
Just as he has for much of the season, Malcolm Brogdon will lead this section. However, not for what he accomplished on the court, but what he said minutes after his college basketball career came to a heartbreaking ending.
With the grace and wisdom he has exuded his entire career Brogdon gave us a reminder what this is all about. He very simply stated "You know, it is difficult, but at the same time, you start to reminisce. You start to remember all the good times you've had, and you start to realize how special these guys sitting next to you and on the court with you, how much they mean to you, how much your coaches mean to you, how much you've learned from them, and just how much you've enjoyed your experience and your college career."
Brogdon continued "Sometimes we get caught up so much in playing the game, trying to win every game, being so focused — I'm a very locked-in guy — rather than just smelling the roses. And now we can smell the roses. We can enjoy what we've established."
It's a wonderful reminder for all of us that while as fans we are disappointed with the way things worked out, we need to remind ourselves first of all that this is a game played by college kids, but second, how far this program has come is truly remarkable. The number of wins speak for themselves, but what I find most interesting is we sit here and lament a loss in the Elite Eight when just three years and two weeks ago we were blasting the RPI after the committee chose a Mountain West team over our Hoos for the opportunity to play in the first four in Dayton.
No longer do we pull up each and every bubble watch column come mid-January and agonize over what Lehigh needs to do on a random Thursday night to potentially improve Virginia's computer ratings even if by a small point or two. No, we as Virginia fans are able to say "wait until next year," and have that grounded in truth rather than blind hope. Virginia has ascended to a point where the losses in the last three NCAA Tournaments have been considered upsets. That's a lofty perch I don't see Virginia coming down from anytime soon. So take it from Malcolm Brogdon, smell the roses, and enjoy what they have established.
What to Watch For
The offseason is always fun and this year should be no different. Let the speculation begin as to who the starting five will be come November. London Perrantes undoubtedly leads the returning starters, and there is excitement to see how his game will grow as he transitions into being next year's go to guy. Then there are returning starters, Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins (how crazy is it say that Virginia will actually return 3/5 starters). After making huge strides in the weight room last year, I look for Hall to improve his shooting and Wilkins to become a monster in the post.
Then there's Marial Shayok. Late in the year he came on strong as a player who was never afraid of the moment. He became that guy who would get the ball and as he hoisted up a shot I would find myself saying "no, no, no, yes" as the ball splashed through the hoop. The last Virginia player who did that...Justin Anderson. Then there's Darius Thompson who was a sneaky 7/7 from the field in the NCAA Tournament including 4/4 from three, not to mention one of the plays of the Tournament with his behind the back fast break pass to Wilkins.
What about the guys who've been in the program this past year, but sat out due to transfer/red shirt Austin Nichols and Mamadi Diakite? Alongside Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter, the front court looks promising. Add to that the highest recruiting class Tony Bennett has brought in during his seven years in Charlottesville. Kyle Guy has already impressed at the McDonalds All American Game skills competition. DeAndre Hunter may turn out to be the best of the bunch, Ty Jerome is a deadly outside shooter, and Jay Huff is 6'10" shooter who has come on strong at the end of the year.
You don't just replace Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Evan Nolte. But the future is bright. The days of hoping just to make the tournament are a thing of the past.
Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn all offseason long. In addition to ramping up spring sports coverage, we'll be bringing you all the basketball news as it becomes available, then getting you ready to as the Virginia football team begins the Bronco Mendenhall era.