Monday, March 19, 2018

One more thing about UVA

Mark Titus posted this after Syracuse upset my championship pick, Michigan State:

First, as I replied, and I've said before, this style works to level the playing field. The slow, deliberate style makes an anomalous result, like UMBC beating Virginia, or Syracuse beating Michigan St., more likely.

This doesn't mean "Virginia has no chance of ever finding NCAA tourney success," but I think it does mean that they don't enter what should be a mismatch with all the advantages a team like Duke does.

But the contrast with Syracuse points out another problem.

When I was growing up, it was Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team that was a perennial tournament disappointment. They had talent like Pearl Washington, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, and Stephen Thompson, but only had one deep tournament run. They lost in the first round to Richmond as a #2 seed. They were notoriously poor free throw shooters.

Now, their typical pattern is to underachieve during the regular season, and then make a run in the tournament with their gimmicky defense that teams ought to be ready for but somehow aren't.

And I wonder if a team like Virginia enters the tournament mentally tapped out. As many commentators noted, they did not blow anybody out. Yes, their games were "over" once they established an 8 point lead in the first half, but only because they could be counted on to maintain their defensive intensity. They had to grind for 40 minutes every night to achieve the record they did. And then they weren't able to kick into a higher gear for the tournament.

Syracuse jogged through the regular season and conference tournament, but then was able to dial it up in the tournament. And for teams like Villanova and Duke, half their games were over before the ball was tipped. They could coast on their superior talent. (And sometimes they couldn't, and lost to St. John's, but no biggie) Virginia didn't do that.

Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule. If you re-ran the tournament 10 more times, I'd bet on UVA reaching the Sweet 16 more times than Syracuse pretty confidently. But it explains why the tournament performances are out of sync with their regular season performance.

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It gives me no joy to say this. I'd like to believe that hard work and discipline can win out over talent. And maybe we should celebrate Virginia's dominant regular season rather than pick apart their failures.

But for tournament success, it seems right now like having at least some overpowering talent is a clearer path to a championship than a great system.
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