The start of the Virginia Basketball season is right around the corner, and we are counting down the days until the Hoos welcome Towson to John Paul Jones Arena on November 6. The season starts in 33 days, and today we’re asking the Streaking the Lawn staff to talk about Virginia’s stunning NCAA exit.
It has been over six months since the 2017-18 Virginia Basketball season ended abruptly. Since there’s a football bye, we asked our staff a basketball-centric question this week:
On a scale of 1-10, how “over” the UMBC loss are you? What has helped you get over it, or what has stopped you from being able to put it behind you?
Wiley: I’m going to give myself a charitable 6. Seeing the four letters together is no longer traumatic, and my reaction when halfwit Hokie trolls fling it around is now just, “Do better.” It’s a thing that happened, and part of why it happened is because there was an incredible season before it--bringing up UMBC also makes me remember Louisville, and UNC in Brooklyn. But it did deepen the concerns I have about UVA basketball under Bennett: what’s the backup plan when things go wrong? It’s the danger of having such a clearly defined style. Everything you’ve coached is geared toward executing that style to perfection and your reaction is to make adjustments at the margins instead of wholesale change. (And to be clear, I’m talking within individual games, not scrapping an entire philosophy forever.) I’m hoping to see more lineup flexibility and more offensive creativity in this year’s squad; that would help me move closer to 10.
Will: I’ll give myself a 3, for now. It is not really at the forefront of anyone’s minds since we are all knee-deep in football, but once basketball season rolls around and it is mentioned 3-4 times a game, old wounds will be reopened and we can become less over it again. I mean, I am still hearing about 28-3 [Falcons loss in the Super Bowl]; that was 18+ months ago and it still hurts. It’ll get even more annoying when the tournament starts and it is mentioned on literally every podcast, article, bracket show, etc. Problem is, it’ll never go away. But for now, it doesn’t bother me too much.
Danny: I am probably at an 8 right now. It occasionally gives me flashbacks and I shudder, but since we are in the thick of football season I do not really think about it that much. The real test will come once the season starts and I go back to writing articles and tweets like “UVA should be ranked higher than…” or “UVA should be a ___ seed because…” It will be tough to overcome the “Yea, buts” from not only critics, but internally. I will probably drop down to a 5 during the season until they have a big win vs Duke/UNC or ACC tournament win. Something to give me hope that this season will end differently.
Sayer: I will also say 3, and I’m not sure that number will ever change. The main reason why I remain so caught up in the *sorry* UMBC loss is because I know that it will forever be intertwined with the brand of UVA basketball. It scares me to think that highlights from the game will remain a staple of March Madness hype videos 10, even 20 years down the road. That said, I do believe the loss can serve some value in a motivational sense. From most accounts I’ve read, everybody, both the staff and the players, have come back hungry for another ACC championship run and ready to achieve more success in NCAA tournament play.
Schwartz: I’ll say 6.
Reasons I am over it:
- It happened, it’s over, and once basketball season starts, we will have lots that we will care about that does not involve past games/seasons. That’s how sports work.
- UVA obviously missed an opportunity to do something special last March, but it’s not like a “window closed” - the Hoos are ranked in the top 10 again this preseason, and I think the team will have more chances down the road to make a Final Four and potentially win it all.
Reasons I am not over it:
- Every time I do think of it, I still have a sudden urge to vomit.
- I have always thought allegations that Coach Bennett’s style “doesn’t translate to the postseason” are completely nonsensical. There is no reason that the calendar should dictate how good or bad a “style” is; a large sample of success shouldn’t be diminished by a fluky few games that happen to take place later in the year. That said, the UMBC loss was so inexplicable and so out of the realm of what I consider “normal variation”. I’ll still roll my eyes with those who argue “UVA’s style doesn’t work in March”...but maybe without the same 100% conviction inside, because I still don’t quite understand how to explain that game. It’s pretty unsettling.
Emily: Hot take but I’m at a 10, easy. The expectations for that team were so high going into March Madness, and yes, the loss was disastrous on all levels, but I don’t think it helps the program or the players for everyone to stay so hung up on it. Even though we were the No. 1 seed and were coming off of a wildly impressive season, we weren’t perfect. The team had flaws that UMBC exploited on a level we hadn’t seen all season. I think this serves as A) a lesson for fans that no team is infallible and B) motivation for the team this season. It happened, I’m moving on and things are looking good for this season. That’s about all I’ve got.
Plus, it’s March Madness. Upsets are bound to happen and I know ours was the worst ever, but it’s kind of the name of the game. Doesn’t discount the success they had during the regular season and in the ACC tournament and it also doesn’t mean we’re destined for failure forever.
Ryan: I’m a 9 if not a 10. I generally don’t get too high or too low with the outcomes of sporting events I don’t have any control over so that has a lot to with it. However, I’ve been most comforted by the team’s response to it. They’re the ones who have to live with it every day and have it follow them for the rest of their basketball careers. Their humility in the immediate aftermath and the fact they’re using it to drive them this season makes me excited for the coming season. And for those who say we as fans will have to hear it all season need to remember, that we’re going to hear it regardless until Virginia makes a Final Four. The argument against Virginia Basketball would have been similar if the Hoos had lost on Sunday instead of Friday, the second weekend instead of the first. Haters are going to claim Virginia’s style CAN’T win in March, and until it does, it won’t matter if they lose to UMBC or Kentucky.
Pierce: I’m at a 1. As I’ve tried to iterate on the podcast, I think there’s a big difference between how we’re individually dealing with the UMBC upset and its actual significance to the UVA program. For me though, the answer on a 1-10 scale is the same - its significance will directly be impacted by the success of the future Tony Bennett teams. If we get to a Final Four this year, or do something like win the ACCT and get upset in the Elite 8 - then my answer will jump way up to a 7 or 8, with more focus on a Final Four, or dare-I-say-it a national championship.
Point being, I’m taking this as it is: one of the most historically significant losses in the history of college basketball. If the team makes up for it in this season or a subsequent one, then I won’t give a single shit that it occurred - but if TB and crew never actually make the Final Four mountaintop (something coaches in the esteemed group of Rick Pitino, Kevin Ollie, and Kelvin Sampson have done in recent memory), then that game will serve as the absolute example of Bennett’s postseason futility. As it stands now, it’s another obstacle for the UVA program to overcome, but if Bennett can’t do it in his 10th year (or beyond), then it is one of the worst losses any basketball team has ever suffered...in the history of the sport...ever...
Trogdon: I’m with Pierce. I’m at a 1. Maybe a 2.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore Tony Bennett. I think he’s the best coach in the country. He might even be the best human being on the planet. I’d lay on a train track for Tony Bennett.
And don’t get me wrong. I love the way Virginia plays basketball. I’m proud that they play stifling defense. I’m proud that they actually play like a team. I love watching them strangle the will from their opponents. I find it beautiful.
But let’s be real. This was the biggest loss in the history of the sport. I don’t know how anyone can look back at that and say “yeah, but it was a great season otherwise.” It’s like having a beautiful (or handsome) date to the prom, shelling out the dough for the tux (or dress), getting the limo, going out to dinner, holding hands as you walk onto the dance floor, getting DUMPED right at the end of Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee,” and then turn around and say “yeah…but that limo ride and the filet mignon I had at dinner were really good. It was a special night that I’m going to remember the rest of my life.”
Or to use another metaphor…“otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
I don’t know what it will take for me to “get over” the loss. It’s not going to be the team winning the Battle for Atlantis. It’s not going to be another gaudy regular season record. I’ll be happy about those things, sure, but my happiness will be muted by an impending sense that the other shoe is gonna drop. Going from such a MASSIVE high of beating UNC to win the ACC Tournament…only to fall to such a MASSIVE low on March 16th…was one of the most soul crushing things I’ve ever witnessed in sports.
I was talking to a longtime friend about this the other day. We graduated together in 2004. I was telling him how I haven’t thought much about the upcoming basketball season. How I haven’t looked at the schedule yet. How I don’t really enjoy watching the team practice videos like I used to. His response was:
“I’m with ya. I’m probably not going to enjoy another Virginia Sports TV basketball video until I see one of the team cutting down the nets at the East Regional.”
I think that might be where I’m at as well.
Darns: I think i’m at like a 9. It was historic only because of when it was played: the NCAA tournament. Don’t get me wrong, it was huge. But in terms of “biggest upset ever”, it wasn’t really even the biggest upset of the season numbers-wise. Wofford over UNC and Washington over Kanas both had lower starting win percentages (1.8% and 1.9%, respectively) for the underdog than UVA vs. UMBC (2.3%). Wofford (KenPom No. 196) over UNC (No. 6) was a bigger disparity than UMBC (No. 188) over UVA (No. 1). Still sucked though.
As a sports fan, it’s actually really damn cool that a 16 pulled it off. As a Virginia fan it was less than ideal to put it nicely.
One thing that has helped me get over it is the way they lost. If it had been a two point game or a buzzer-beater...wooooowee I’d probably still be in bed in the fetal position. Virginia was cold, UMBC was hot, and momentum swung in their favor. Literally nothing could go right. That’s it. I agree with what Ryan said, too. The players have to live with it, and if they can be that mature and reasonable about, I can try to be as well.
I have to disagree with my good friend Trogs’s metaphor regarding the regular season. The regular season is more of a relationship than a prom date. We had a long relationship with that team last season, full of amazing highs and three (THREE) lows. Unfortunately, timing just didn’t work out, and things ended before we would have liked. Does that make the amazing times less amazing? No. It just maybe takes a little time before we can get over the heartache before we can accept that it was amazing and wonderful, even though things weren’t meant to be. I refuse to miss out on the fun and excitement this season looks to be because I’m too hurt to put my heart back out there.
The worst part is the unintelligent digs and endless UMBC/16-1 jokes. Back in the day, Syracuse was the first ever 2-seed to lose to a 15 and that was world-ending. They survived. We will, too.
Leung: I love how all over the place this group has been on this question. I’m pretty much copying everything that Will said. I’m at an 8 maybe even a 9. I’m pretty over it. It’s going to suck for the next six months in particular, and then for the next unknown period of time until Virginia reaches the Final Four or wins a title, but for the last six months, I’ve been leaning so hard into this loss that I find it kind of funny. I’d rather not have this as a part of our history, but now that it’s there, I’m completely fine owning it, because the only way a loss even matters is if the team itself mattered to begin with. Maybe this is just an “It’s an honor just to have been nominated” response, but isn’t it?
Tiki: I’m probably around a 4 or 5. I don’t think about it. But when I do it hurts. I don’t imagine that’s going to change any time soon. Unless, as others have said, we make a Final Four. I imagine it’s going to come up quite a bit during the season, and that’s going to suck. But it’s not going to change the way I watch games.
Hobes: I’m around a 2 or 3. Let’s make no mistake or excuse about it - this was the most significant upset in college sports history, and even if a blue-blood like Duke or UNC is the next to fall to a 16 seed, it won’t be nearly as monumental of an upset as this was. It was four-fold: maybe the best team in the history of UVA sports and the top overall seed in the tournament getting _shellacked_ by a commuter school from the America East for the first win by a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. For me, the defining moment came with a little under four minutes left and UVA already down by 14, as Guy either went up for a floater that was blocked or tried to lob a pass across the lane to Wilkins that was stolen away. An incredulous Jim Nantz (who has now called the two worst losses in UVA sports history along with the ‘90 football game against Georgia Tech) asked, “What has happened to Virginia?” and that summed up what the college basketball world was thinking. Even without De’Andre Hunter, that UVA team should *never* have lost that game, let alone by 20 points.
What’s more is that it adds even more fuel to the firestorm that has been the criticism of Virginia Basketball since their return to prominence nearly five years ago: that they’re boring, slow, not versatile or flexible enough, and can’t win in March. An easy rebuttal to that is “Yeah, and Jay Wright couldn’t win in March until he did”, but the point is that he’s won two titles and been to one other Final Four. Bart Torvik’s model indicates that a program with Virginia’s stats and profile since 2013-14 would have an 85 percent chance of getting to at least one Final Four, second only to Villanova. And according to that system, UVA is six or seven tournament wins short of expectations since that time. What’s honestly helped me move past it some was my beloved Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup a few months back, but I can’t shake the feeling that, as we’ve seen several times in recent years with Virginia, this was such an outstanding team that failed to do itself justice in the dance. If they were to win the national championship this year, it would go up to a 10 probably forever, but if they don’t, it’ll stay at a 2 or 3 for awhile.
What say you, fans? Leave a comment below!