Virginia Beat: Ringing in the New Year in (Virginia) Style

Virginia basketball is ever a capricious thing.  The Hoos’ last game before Christmas was a cringe-inducing loss to Old Dominion, which has lost its three games since that one to fall to 2-13 at present.  You would not think that game would portend good times for the New Year.

But this is Virginia basketball, so you’d be wrong.  UVA opened its ACC season against North Carolina on Sunday night, the last ACC team they’d never yet beaten at the shiny, still new John Paul Jones Arena.  North Carolina is a team that loves to run and score in transition; the venerable Ken Pomeroy credits them as the fastest-tempoed team in the country.  UVA, of course, thinks 60 points is a privilege, not a right, and Tony Bennett’s defense is terrific at controlling the tempo and slowing down a game.

This is not what the very young Tar Heels are used to.  And from the looks of the Sunday night game, neither are they used to a basketball game that’s decided by grit and a well-played system instead of skill and precision.  These are mostly freshman and sophomores in Carolina blue, after all, and last year the Carolina machine was manned by lottery talent.  These are guys who are used to always being better than their opponent.  Or losing because their opponent was more skilled.  When a lesser opponent would put a scare into them, they could always count on their skill to carry them past.

The Hoos taught them otherwise.  The biggest sports cliché there is, is that someone “wanted it more,” but UVA wanted it more.  UVA went after the loose balls, grabbed rebounds, and actively moved around on defense.  As the ESPN commentators pointed out, UNC did none of these things.  And they looked surprised.  Like a boxer taking his first punch to the mouth.  UVA played a brand of basketball that was alien to the Heels, and they didn’t know how to take it.

It should excite UVA fans.  UNC isn’t the team they were last year, but they’re still in the upper echelon of the ACC, and one of the conference’s most skilled teams.  That UVA was able to shut down a lineup full of four and five-star recruits bodes very well for the future.  Virginia is a very young team itself – hence the ugly hiccup against Old Dominion – and will probably find a few ways to stumble as conference play drags on.  And if they don’t, their old friend the injury bug might do it for them, with Jontel Evans playing on a still-iffy foot and Akil Mitchell rolling his ankle in practice last week.  But the exciting part is that this young, inexperienced Virginia team executed Tony Bennett’s system in outstanding fashion against one of the ACC’s premier teams.  The New Year couldn’t have started better, and the Hoos have proven themselves a force to contend with.

Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

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