After Virginia's 68-62 loss to Syracuse, we as fans naturally search for an explanation. What did UVA do wrong? Where were mistakes made? Who is at fault?
These are reasonable things to consider. Clearly, if different decisions were made by players and coaches, the outcome could have been switched. Maybe Tony Bennett could have called timeout when the team cut the lead to three...but don't you think that the team may have had a play ready for that situation? Maybe UVA could have played it more slowly against the press, resetting the offense after crossing halfcourt. But can we really criticize the desire to take advantage of 2-on-1s in transition, where the Hoos smoked Iowa State two days prior?
Is Tony Bennett just not a tournament coach? Does UVA's style falter in March? Are the players just chokers? These loaded questions make me want to bang my head against the wall. There's one reason that UVA blew a late lead to the Orange. And it's the same reason that Michigan State fell in the first round to MTSU, or that UNI collapsed down the stretch against Texas A&M, or that any Vegas underdog won all season:
Unlikely things happen in sports, and college basketball is one of the craziest sports of all.
With 9:33 to play and Virginia leading by 15, Syracuse's comeback hopes were fading and Jim Boeheim sensed it. He tried one last-gasp gambit, pressing Virginia hoping to force turnovers or at least increase the number of possessions remaining. The chances of success were low, but it's probably the only hope that the Orange had of shaking things up.
Well, it freaking worked. UVA broke the press just fine, all but one time getting it across halfcourt. But, seeing that they had numbers, the Hoos went to the hoop. And, for whatever reason, they didn't manage to convert. With 7:30 to play, UVA scored to go up 9. On the next 3 offensive possessions, London Perrantes turned it over, then Brogdon missed a layup, and Perrantes missed a runner of his own. Those errors were enough to give a suddenly hot Cuse team the lead just 90 seconds later.
In hindsight, I'm sure Tony Bennett and company sorely regret those rushed possessions. But I also don't think they would pass up the next 2-on-1 opportunity they get. The way to punish a team for pressing is to go ahead and score points off it.
An unlikely thing happened and the more deserving team won, but the better team didn't. Because sports are crazy. So the answer to what I'll take from this game: Absolutely nothing. Winning an NCAA title is hard, even for the best teams in the nation, because of the randomness of the 64-team tournament format. It really hurts that Virginia didn't take advantage of a legitimate shot to do so this season, and it hurts that Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Evan Nolte didn't get the happy ending we all hoped for. I take solace in knowing that Tony Bennett has developed an elite team in each of the past 3 seasons. If he keeps doing that, Virginia will eventually get to the Final Four and may win a title.
UVA has been the beneficiary of good fortune this year. Darius Thompson's banked three-pointer capped a wild comeback against Wake Forest. And remember that roller-coaster victory over Cal? (On another note, the UVA baseball team won a national title despite a #3 regional seed a few months back...) It's tough to accept, but tonight the Hoos didn't make plays for a few minutes and lost a game at a terrible, terrible time.