Dear UVa Fan:
Congratulations on making the National Title game! We’re proud of the season you had and although you won’t hear us doing any A-C-C chants tonight, it is nice to have other teams in the conference do some of the heavy lifting to ensure our status as “best basketball conference.” Can you believe some people were talking about the Big Ten being tops this year? Neither can we.
Tonight could be a program-changing evening for you. Win, and you’ll have one more national title than Virginia Tech (I know that means a lot to you) and one fewer than N.C. State! That’s huge, a big achievement unlocked. Don’t start applying for “Blue Blood” status just yet, though. Louisville has 3 titles–including one that people still remember–and their application is still sitting in the “to be reviewed” pile.
Just like our teams on Tobacco Road, you’re never making a College Football National Championship Game, so athletically this is the biggest spotlight your school and its fans will get. Unlike Duke and UNC, this is a once in a lifetime event for many of your fans, so don’t waste it. It’s not like you’re gonna make back-to-back Championship games (like UNC did in 2016/2017) and you certainly aren’t winning two in a row (like Duke did in 1991/1992), so I suggest you make like Maryland and win this thing while your program is on the best upswing in its history.
Now, you may have gotten the wrong impression about how some of your neighbors are feeling about this magical run to Monday night. It has been quite a ride, has included two heart-stopping finishes, and is in no way invalidated by the fact that if you win tonight you’ll be the first NCAA champion in almost 30 years to not have to face a 1- or 2-seed en route to the One Shining Moment. Forget that Texas Tech beat Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State in succession to arrive here and don’t let anyone tell you that Oregon, Purdue, and a hobbled Auburn is any less impressive. Ignore people trying to ruin your night by bringing up double dribbles or soft foul calls or how the clock starting .3 seconds late on that tip out might have saved you. You deserve to be there tonight, believe it.
Some of you have even referred to us as “haters” when nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, just last year we were lauding your unique style of play with one of our classic song parodies. We had you winning the whole thing!
Spoiler alert: UVa did not beat Villanova. In fact, they lost to UMBC, becoming the first 1-seed to fall to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Since then, some of you may have confused us having fun following that folly with actual animosity towards Virginia. So let’s clear some things up on how we feel about….
No one hates these players. The keen and even most of the casual college basketball fans have come to recognize this squad has many of the classic trappings of title winning teams: a lottery pick (De’Andre Hunter is a PLAYER), a couple more future NBA players (Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will get a chance to prove themselves for sure, and Mamadi Diakite’s continued development might land him in the League as well) and some know-your-role players filling out the roster. Beyond being good players, they seem like solid dudes. Hunter seems to have a personality more closely resembling the stoic Tim Duncan than, say, the colorful Rasheed Wallace, so you’ll excuse us if we don’t buy his first line of sneakers once he’s a pro, but basically we have no knocks on these guys. Guy shaved the man-bun and loves questions about last year, goofy Jay Huff doesn’t even play any more….there’s not much to make fun of. Sure, Jerome can be mopey and whiney with the refs. But none of these guys incites an opposing fan base like, say, a Grayson Allen or Tyler Hansbrough did. These guys aren’t hate-able. We don’t hate them personally. As we address below, some “hate” naturally comes with winning. But actual dislike? Around here we typically save that for rivals.
Tony Bennett is a great coach and, you may have heard, he is very classy as well. Not “wear a tie to a basketball game” classy, but there’s not much to criticize here, either. Yes, he’d be more fun if he acted like Jim Boeheim or Gary Williams or Lefty Dreissel. Even Virginia gentleman Terry Holland (allegedly) named his dog Dean so he could kick it around. But we can live with Bennett as a starring character on the about-to-launch ACC Network. Also, apropos of nothing, if you put JFK’s hair and suit on him he looks strikingly similar to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
He played for the Hornets! There’s absolutely zero chance he’d ever leave for an SEC school! We like these things. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: most folks down here believe that unless Bennett takes an NBA job (those efficiency numbers make NBA stat-heads swoon), there are maybe 5 or fewer jobs he would leave Virginia for….and two of them are at schools with Hall of Fame coaches who could retire in the next 5 years…and are in North Carolina. You may not see it on message boards, but if you lunch at the right spots in the Triangle you’ll hear well-heeled whispers that Tony could be a target for schools in Durham in Chapel Hill. So, we don’t hate Tony Bennett. Far from it. Plus, since we’re being honest, we love that Bennett is classy, but not TOO classy. For example, a really classy coach would have alerted the officials of Ty Jerome’s double-dribble:
The Pace of Play thing
Every team goes out and plays the style they think best affords them the chance to win. It is also recognized that there are multiple effective ways to structure a team’s offense and defense. But, like….we’ve seen the Warriors. We know what basketball can look like. Closer to home, we’ve had teams win championships when they averaged 80+ points a game because they’re flexing their NBA talent on teams that have less. YES, winning is the most important thing, but you can’t tell me it’s more fun the way Virginia plays. It’s not.
Remember Paul Johnson, the old Georgia Tech football coach? His style of play was different, effective, and when the triple option was infuriating a high caliber defense, you could describe it as fun to watch. But it wasn’t, say, Kyler Murray running circles around people fun. One style of play is clearly more aesthetically pleasing to more people. Any argument otherwise is purely tribal.
We talked about kind of liking the talent on this team. It’s true! And we’d love to see, just maybe, Kyle Guy pull an early shot clock three-pointer on a slacking defender. Or Jerome, for once, pushing a man advantage fast break for a Hunter slam instead of walking it up after an open court steal. Have you guys SEEN Malcolm Brogden play in the NBA?
No one is saying Virginia CAN’T win playing this style–they obviously can and have and will. But it is a completely fair question to ask if they would win more by increasing the possessions per game, especially when they have superior talent to their opponent. Sure, at some point speeding up play could cut into efficiency, and that’s the balance. But do we really not think Virginia would have been one of the best, most offensively efficient teams if they had played this season with a 24-second shot clock? That’s all we’re asking.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it were just fans defending the slow play, but it’s also….
One of the most annoying things about the Hoos’ decidedly slower pace isn’t the style of play itself–it’s that anyone who dares to critique Bennett, the first coach ever to lose to a 16-seed as a 1-seed, gets shouted down by a horde of defensive defenders, defensively defending their defense-first coach (and before they jump on me for calling him a “defense-first coach” please tell me what the famous nickname for Bennett’s offense is. Thank you.)
It’s gotten so bad that even some of our local media seem to be trying to score points by joining the “never criticize Tony” team. Sure, Mike Krzyzewski’s official title seems to include “greatest basketball coach of all time and maybe the greatest coach in any team sport ever” when he gets written about. But that doesn’t mean folks won’t question his decision to go full bore with one-and-done. I even saw media members this season suggest that the 5-time NCAA champion and former USA Basketball coach “didn’t know offense.” But we can’t ask if Tony Bennett is making life harder on himself by having a low-scoring team?
Why is it ok for everyone to collectively agree that, yes, Roy Williams, winner of 3 national titles and knower of way more basketball than all of us fans SHOULD, in fact, use more time outs, but it is completely crazy to proffer that Tony Bennett’s incredibly efficient offense might actually be more effective if he employed it for a few more possessions per game? Hell, the NCAA likely did him a favor by trimming the shot clock from 35 to 30.
Why is a loss to a 16-seed (the first one. ever. in history.) ABSOLUTELY NOT AN INDICTMENT of the style of play, according to some, but making the same number of NCAA championship games as Paul Hewitt is definitive affirmation of said style? That doesn’t jibe.
Also, I realize it’s a different situation covering Virginia and Virginia Tech than it is life in the Triangle, with 3 schools on top of each other and another ACC school 2 hours down the road. But at least our guys do a decent job of pretending they like covering State and Duke and Wake as much as UNC.
This was a struggle to write this section because, honestly, there’s such a blurred line between fan and media that it was difficult to choose which section to put these talking points. There’s such desperation from Virginia fans to be accepted into the fraternity of top basketball programs with a simultaneous need to be liked by everyone. That’s not how this works. You don’t become a Duke or a North Carolina by having people like you. You love that people hate you. It’s a badge of honor. Here are things you have to give up in order to reach that top tier of college basketball fandom:
- –Talking about how much you like your team: no one cares because everyone hates you and your players.
- –Talking about how great your coach is: he’s overrated.
- –Talking about referees: you get all of the calls now. Trust us.
- –Talking about your feelings: seriously, all of the reasons you love Virginia basketball are now the reasons why every other fanbase hates you.
- –Putting the past behind you: you think winning a championship will make you exempt from UMBC jokes? We’re just getting started. Wofford and Davidson declared school holidays on the dates their teams beat UNC in the regular season. Lehigh and Mercer cries come whenever someone tries to crown Duke the March King. But we can’t make jokes about THE FIRST TIME A ONE SEED LOST TO A SIXTEEN ARE YOU F#$%^ING SERIOUS???? If you’re big time you wear these things for life.
It’s not an easy road, being a fan of a top tier program. Be careful what you wish for.
Of course, there is also the fact that you guys all went to Virginia. As one of the N.C. State fans I play basketball with said in explaining Virginia to someone else: “Virginia is like Carolina, only they’re more Carolina than Carolina.” From the code words for everything to the secret fraternities inside other secret fraternities to the Jefferson worship, it’s all a bit much.
And one of my favorite quotes from a friend recently describes all too many of you: “Six years ago I swear I did not know my in-laws went to Virginia. Now, it’s the dominant decorating theme in their house, and the starting point of all family conversations.” There’s a lot of that that has popped up around here. I know that doesn’t at all describe YOU, but….it’s a thing.
So, good luck tonight, Virginia fan. It’s a no pressure viewing tonight from Tobacco Road: win, and we get to add to the ACC’s trophy case and coffers while simultaneously pointing out that one ring doesn’t get you elite status in the ACC, it just means Tony can’t win conference Coach of the Year any more. Lose, and we’ll smugly remind ourselves that no one does it like the Blue Bloods, and that you still have two fewer titles than the Wolfpack.
Regardless, if you’re not nervous as hell and drinking already, you’re doing it wrong.