NIT Run Offers Redemption for Virginia

Virginia's two NIT wins have provided a positive ending to a disappointing season.
Virginia’s two NIT wins have provided a positive ending to a disappointing season.

When last your correspondent wrote on the Virginia basketball team, it was with high hopes entering the ACC tournament, with the stakes as high as they’d been in years. Things didn’t go as planned. UVA was beaten badly in a game that served only to put an exclamation point on the struggles of the end of the regular season, rather than earn any of the hoped-for accolades.

The NCAA tournament committee saw it the same way, and UVA was left on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. The Hoos were relegated to the NIT, and it looked as though the Duke win of early March would be the season’s high-water mark. Even a first-round NIT game against Norfolk State looked like a dicey proposition, given the way UVA was playing, as Norfolk State had gone through their entire conference schedule undefeated.

Two games later, the season has been effectively rescued. UVA failed to reach many of its goals (or at least, the goals that I presumed to set for them), that much is undeniable. To get so close to the big show and then not make it, and to extend a losing streak in the ACC tournament that’s nearly 20 years old, is disappointing. But with two wins in the NIT, UVA is at least still playing.

The Norfolk State game redefined sloppy. To come out of there with a win was as much a testament to the quality of the opponent (or lack thereof) as UVA’s gumption. But win they did, thereby at least avoiding the embarrassing fate of Kentucky. The next game saw UVA start to return to their midwinter form. St. John’s came to Virginia and shot almost as poorly as Norfolk State did; the difference was that UVA was its old self on offense. UVA got instant heat off the bench in the form of Taylor Barnette and his three three-pointers, and their inside game was nearly unstoppable with Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey combining to shoot 10-for-11. The team game clicked outstandingly: UVA scored 24 baskets, 19 of which were assisted.

All this means on the surface that Virginia has advanced to the NIT quarterfinals, and will host Iowa with Madison Square Garden on the line. What the Hoos have really done, though, is leave a good taste in the mouths of their fans, and probably themselves. Nobody’s happy when an ACC tourney loss is the last memory of the season. Had they slunk into the Big Dance and then lost there, all that would’ve been left of the year is unfulfilled promise. To some extent, unfulfilled promise is exactly what the NIT represents in the first place, but winning heals a lot of wounds. UVA has given its fans reason to believe in a building block for next year, and at this point can only add to that foundation.

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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