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I think it is pretty safe to say this season is not turning out the way ACC media folks thought it would in looking back at their preseason predictions.
Also pretty safe to say it’s not turning out the way anyone thought it would, for that matter.
Back in early November, the ACC scribes liked Virginia and Florida State to be in the top 3, with Virginia the solid No. 1, Duke second and the Seminoles No. 3. As Meatloaf used to sing back in the day, two out of three ain’t bad.
That’s because there are only 13 days left in the ACC regular season and here is the top 3: Florida State is first with a 9-2 league record, Virginia is second at 11-3 and third is not Duke, but an 8-3 Virginia Tech team, which the pundits picked to finish 11th. Three weeks from today when the NCAA hands out bids to the Big Dance, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State look like the only teams in the league with a relative lock at getting in. The rest of the teams appear to be on the bubble or worse.
Yesterday’s games just added data points to the field known as “I really don’t know how this is all going to turn out.” North Carolina and Louisville were preseason picks to finish 4th and 5th, and a month ago the Cardinals were 9-1 and ranked No. 16 in the nation. North Carolina, conversely, hasn’t been ranked in 2021, and dropped to 12-7 a week ago while only scoring 48 points in a loss to Virginia.
But Louisville went from Feb. 1 until yesterday without playing a game due to COVID. How did that affect them? Well, the most the Cardinals had given up in any game this season was 78 points. They ended up giving up 99 to a team that a week ago couldn’t throw it in the ocean. UNC beat them like a drum 99-54, and it was the largest margin of defeat for the Cards since 1939.
Folks in Blacksburg had to be shuddering in seeing that, since the Hokies haven’t played since Feb. 6. There is already enough anxiety over which team will show up for the Feb. 23 game with Georgia Tech – a well-rested team with returning players who have recovered from injuries, or a team flat from inactivity – and Louisville’s visit to the woodshed Saturday won’t help with that.
Then there’s Virginia. They are still the defending national champions since one wasn’t named last year, and they are still a very talented team. But they’ve now lost to the two other top 3 teams in Florida State and Virginia Tech, they’ve lost two in a row, and in the loss to Duke yesterday, showed a weakness that is going to bite them in the NCAA’s if they don’t fix it soon.
Most of the stories I’m reading this morning are praising Duke, talking about their defense, wishfully thinking this puts the Blue Devils on the bubble despite only a 10-8 overall record, and generally confirming in my mind that the national media sure has a lot of Duke homers in its ranks.
Duke did play well and was extremely accurate in its shooting last night. Both Duke and Virginia shot over 50 percent, making last night’s game an extremely entertaining contest to watch. But Virginia should have won if their offense didn’t morph into slow motion in the last two minutes.
You see this happen to teams who have great overall personnel, but don’t have that one go-to scorer. They move the ball well throughout the game, find people for open shots, and their offense has a flow that with people who can shoot like Jay Huff, Sam Hauser and Kihei Clark, is tough to stop.
But then in the final 2 minutes, that flow just seemed to come to a stop for UVA. The offense seemed to be standing around with little movement to the point even TV commentator Jay Bilas noted it. They seemed to be waiting for someone to take on the Jimmy Chitwood-like role in the movie “Hoosiers” and step up and make a play. In doing so, the Cavaliers just kept passing the ball until there were only a few seconds left on the shot clock, where the person with the ball then took whatever shot he could, and it generally wasn't a good one.
UVA led 65-62 with three minutes to go and would have 4 more possessions. Duke scored the four points the Blue Devils needed to take the lead in that time span, while the Cavaliers missed on all four of their chances. None of those 4 were what I would call a great shot.
Contrast that with the last time Virginia Tech played. Down by 3 with less than two seconds, they got the ball in the hands of Hunter Cattoor, who drilled the tying three-pointer that allowed the game to be won in overtime. The Hokies had called a timeout to specifically run that play because Coach Mike Young knew Cattoor was the kind of player who wanted the ball in that situation.
UVA could have done the same since they finished the game with two unused timeouts. They chose not to.
So who knows what to expect coming down the stretch. Syracuse trailed Notre Dame by 20 in the second half yesterday, then went crazy from the three-point line and came back and won by eight. There are three games left on the schedule for everybody and teams could win all three, lose all three, or maybe not even play all three.
Nobody knows what's going to happen, as it’s certainly not the type of season anyone expected.
But it is the kind of season that is fun to watch.
VT's four recently missed games: UNC, UL and two with FSU. Likely VT would not still be in 3rd place if these had been played.
The lack of games has in some ways helped the Hokies, and this week we will see how much it has hurt them when they finally take the court again