Three and a half weeks ago the Virginia Cavaliers were the #12 team in the country and riding a five game winning streak. The Hoos travelled to Philadelphia to take on the defending champion and #1-ranked Villanova Wildcats in a rare non-conference game in late January. Looking back, this game, specifically the second half, appears to have been a turning point in UVA’s season.
Coming into the match-up, the Cavaliers were 16-3, having just defeated #14 Notre Dame by 17 earlier in the week and owning other key road wins over Louisville and California. Virginia was outscoring opponents by 16 points per game and outshooting them as the stats show below.
In front of the biggest crowd to ever see a college basketball game in Philadelphia, the Hoos dominated the first half. UVA was up 31-22 by limiting the stunned Wildcats to only 1 of 10 shooting from the 3 point line and holding them to 18% shooting overall. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the two teams traded buckets as the Cavaliers held on to a 12 point lead with 10 minutes left to go. Virginia had never beaten a #1 or even #2 team on the road in the program’s history and were looking at a possible return to a top-5 ranking if they pulled off the upset.
However, the game and the season changed after that. Villanova outscored the Hoos 24-10 in the final 10 minutes and came away with a victory at the buzzer. Would the close loss prove to be a moral victory, as the young UVA team actually moved up in the rankings to #9? Or would the second half collapse open up old wounds of the Syracuse Elite Eight meltdown and derail the Cavaliers’ season? Unfortunately it appears to have been the latter.
Since the trip to Philadelphia, Virginia has lost 5 of their past 7 games, including blowing second half leads of 14, 12, and 9 to Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Miami. UVA is now ranked #18 and could drop out of the rankings all together on Monday. The Hoos’ points per game and shooting drastically changed after that game as well, as shown below.
The Cavaliers have averaged almost 9 fewer points per game and have given up 9 more, while shooting 9% worse.
Did the Villanova collapse open up a Pandora’s box of nightmares that changed the players mentalities? Or has the tough and compact ACC schedule simply worn down the young team?
Hopefully the four day break and two winnable games will help the Hoos get over their woes before the postseason.