"We don't need you!" We don't need you!"
Acidic chants from catty student sections are one of the best parts of college basketball, as long as deceased grandmothers are left out of it. Football may be where the money and the crowds are, but football crowds don't have anything on basketball crowds when it comes to getting up underneath opposing skins. Creativity abounds. Few things are more entertaining then the crowd participating in the smack talk, sometimes much better than the actual players could ever get away with.
One of those things is watching your team throw it back in their faces. Justin Anderson, the target of the above chant that rained down from (understandably, if we're being honest) jilted-feeling Maryland fans, seemed to feed off it. His jumper gave UVA its first points, and when he sank two free throws, ice-cold as you please, the thought started to form in the back of my head that whatever venom Maryland students would send his way in the near future would backfire. Those free throws took the lead from Maryland. They would never get it back. Full-force backfire was in effect. This kid is gonna play a great game at Cameron Indoor one day.
We've already hashed out Jordan Williams's decision to go to the NBA and its cause-and-effect chain that led Anderson to where he is today, but it's fascinating to watch the consequences play out in real life. Anderson is a smart guy who is soaking up Tony Bennett's coaching like a sponge, with sensational results. There hasn't been a guy in Virginia blue and orange who made athleticism look so easy since Adam Hall. Even Sean Singletary played more like a miniature explosion than with Anderson's lightning smoothness. And his defense on Alex Len - to whom he gives up seven inches - helped Maryland fans start to wonder why Len is supposed to be a lottery pick. That was surely just as important as his 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Of course, there's a great deal of obvious irony in watching the Maryland fanbase get upset over "traitorous" behavior. Those crazzzzy ol' Dookies got in a nice one a couple weeks ago, informing the Maryland hoops team to "don't come back.... don't come back...." So when the Terp student section expressed their opinion about how badly they needed or didn't need Justin Anderson's skills, I couldn't help but think there were fifteen schools that felt the same way about Maryland. Students, should the opportunity present itself when Maryland pays a visit next month (and assuming we don't intend to follow the Terps to the Midwest where we don't belong), you know what to do.
Further points in brief:
-- Lately I've found myself wishing we had a point guard that shot threes. And Jontel runs the fast break with about the same philosophy as all the doomed chicks in a Freddy Krueger movie. Then I look at the boxscore and go "whoa, eight assists." Obviously something is being done right. I'm not quite sure what, other than that Evans is pretty good at the drive-and-dish in the halfcourt set.
-- On the other hand, there's an advantage, or at least a small silver lining, to having Evans's defender playing six feet off of him. Namely, that it plays right into Tony's slow-down-the-game hand. And it gives Jontel a wide field of vision to calmly observe as the other scorers run around the halfcourt to their hearts' content until one of them gets open. Most point guards are better when they get the chance to observe the action and make a nice calm decision, and Bub's no different. Even so, I wouldn't mind seeing Tony put in a system where, in the second half (when we're shooting in front of our own bench) he can say a word or two and cause Evans to shoot the open three. That wouldn't have to work very often for it to work.
-- Enough cannot be said about what the Hoos did to Alex Len. Before desperation mode arrived (and Len tipped in a couple putbacks) he had five points and five rebounds. Also with five rebounds at that point: Jontel Evans.
-- The general meme about Maryland's press, when they realized they had to knock the Hoos out of their comfort zone, is that UVA couldn't handle it. Because, you know, there were some turnovers and some nervous moments. But UVA got about as many cheap points out of Maryland's press as Maryland did, and that's basically the definition of handling it. How do you think Paul Jesperson was so wide open for some of his threes?
-- Of Maryland's ten rotation players, Logan Aronhalt sees the fewest minutes. Sunday he saw more time than James Padgett and Charles Mitchell combined. Backup point guard Seth Allen (a pretty good player in the future but still prone to chucking nutty turnovers) played just one fewer minute than Len. It was obvious Mark Turgeon decided to try and play small to counter the success UVA was having with their own backcourt, but there's one problem with that: our backcourt is much better than theirs. That was another huge key to the win. I told you our size is mainly useful for shutting down regular-sized backcourts, and Turgeon gave up his size advantage and let UVA have one instead.
The next game is VT on Tuesday. We have a little rivalry run here: Maryland, VT, UNC. And, not to look past VT or anything (let's face it, we're at the point now where certain games will be taken for granted because if we don't win them, then there's no point in talking about any goals at all) but the single most important game left on the calendar is Saturday's tilt at Carolina.
Reason: We have, as it stands, a 1-game lead over the Heels. If things go as they should this week (we play VT, Carolina plays Duke) we'll have a 2-game lead going into Saturday. A win means a three-game lead with six to play. But really, it means a four-game lead, because with a win in Chapel Hill, UVA will have the tiebreaker over UNC. We already have it on NC State; we don't play 'em again this year.
There's a pretty fair-sized gap between the fifth and sixth-place teams, talent-wise. NC State is dangerous; Florida State and below, less so. Getting that tiebreaker over both UNC and NC State would put UVA squarely in the driver's seat for a minimum third place finish, with eyes on second; they would have to falter amazingly to lose it. Third would be really, really nice, because unless UNC or NC State falls below fifth - unlikely - you'd be guaranteed to play FSU-or-worse in the ACC tournament. And I'll tell you what, man; the mainest goal this season is probably just to get past freakin' Friday in the ACC tournament. Do that and everything else falls into place. So: beat Carolina (and don't eff it up against VT) and things will be looking sunnier than they have in a long, long time.
Here are the results of this week's season sim, with last week's also presented for comparison:
UVA made a nice strong move, leaping past NC State because the Pack lost once and squeaked past Clemson, which didn't do them any KenPom favors. KenPom rewards you for beating the flying shit out of someone, and UVA moved from 42nd to 22nd overall in his rankings with that win over Clemson and then up to 19th by beating Maryland. Which, by the way, was a tossup game, so winning that along with the large percentage boost from the move up the rankings landed UVA with a roughly 3-in-4 chance, as we sit now, of finishing third. Compare that with a 1-in-2 chance of beating UNC this weekend and it might undermine my message from above a little bit, but in a good way: beating UNC would be very helpful, but is not absolutely essential, to finishing third.
The other story here is that both teams on either end of the standings (Miami and VT) have done some very nice work solidifying their respective positions. In two weeks VT has gone from about a 55% chance of the bottom seed to better than 4-in-5. God's in His heaven, and all is right with the world.
Also, someone asked over the Twitters what our RPI would be if we'd beaten ODU. I guessed "only about five spots" and, as it turns out, undershot by six. UVA is 75th at the moment, and I calculate that'd go up to 64th if ODU had been a win like it damn well should've been. I still say the committee will say "senior point guard injured" and ignore it, as long as we can keep on taking care of business.