Notwithstanding the regrettable decision of Thomas Jefferson, who named his hallowed university’s basketball arena after Led Zeppelin’s bass player John Paul Jones, this year’s edition of the Cavaliers, which toils in that venue and who stand 21-1 on the year, believes itself a legitimate national title contender.
As do the rowdy members of the Wahoo Nation, who haven’t been this pumped since Ralph Sampson controlled another more appropriately named arena in Charlottesville back in the 80s.
Also jumping on the bandwagon is an increasingly smitten national media, ready to shill for some new face, any new face, with game enough to challenge the perennials, Kentucky and Duke.
Who am I to disagree?
Despite my contrarian nature, I shan’t.
UVa is legit.
Extrapolating from that premise, let me hypothesize further.
I have a firm, if not empirically reliable belief that such aspirants for One Shining Moment, if indeed with the chops to prevail, do not lose on their home court after the calendar flips to February.1
So, though I would have been delighted, had U of L slipped out of Charlottesville with a W, it is not surprising in the least that this most vexing Cardinal squad in years did not.
I was not seriously depressed because of the loss itself, when I laid my head on the pillow.
Which is different from being dazed and confused as to how and why this odd mix of Cardinals, with its still elusive chemistry and top-heavy imbalance, has fashioned an impressive, legit Top 25, 19-4 record.
* * * * *
Ironic or not, I found some solace in The Rick’s post game reaction to the loss, and his remarks.
He practically bit Paul Rogers tongue off during the post game show, when he had to repeat how the team didn’t execute the offensive game plan.
“Our offense was ridiculous.”
“We just didn’t run our sets.”
He laid blame on Terry Rozier and Chris Jones for their one on one — actually. a bunch of the time, one on two, three or four — mindset.
Pitino offered that U of L was able to comeback somewhat after intermission, because he convinced the team during the break to run what they’d been practicing.
Oh, how I wish I could agree.
Certainly the Cardinals played better, after the break. They hit 52% of their shots (13/25) and out rebounded the Cavaliers by 8 (20-12). Though they coughed the ball up 5 times, while forcing only a single UVa gaffe.
I would be remiss were I not to point out that U of L’s starting guard tandem took 19 of the 25 FG attempts in the second half. That’s a totally unacceptable 76%. For the game, they hogged 30 of Louisville’s 46 FG attempts. 65%.
That’s right, Rick, when your team was, according to you, doing what it was supposed to do with the ball, two guys were even more your offense, than when you claim they were freelancing.
One more mention of just how lopsided it was, then I promise I’ll move on.
Until there was but 8:36 to play, only CJ, TR and Harrell had scored for U of L. That’s the time when Wayne Blackshear2 converted a 1+1. Forty one seconds later, Blackshear drained a trey, cutting the deficit to a single digit. At the 6:08 mark, Blackshear hit another three, and UVa’s lead was down to six.
Eight points in 2:28 of clock.
And he didn’t get a touch the rest of the way.
From then to the final buzzer, both Jones and Rozier forced shots after driving inside, when Blackshear was free in the same spot where he had just canned two long balls in a row.
* * * * *
For the second tilt in a row, only four Cards scored. I don’t need to list them for you.
Seven other Cardinals saw action. Quentin Snider attempted two shots. Anton Gill, one. Shaqquan Aaron, one.
Three U of L centers, Chinanu Onuaku, Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud, collectively played 42 minutes and took not one shot.
One guy’s opinion. Of course, these fellows are not offensive juggernauts. But for this team to do anything at all worthy come tournament time, they must be part of the offense.
Which is why, despite the little comfort that comes from knowing Pitino had an offensive game plan other than the one on display, I remain befuddled that there’s not more movement, passing, cutting, screening and equality of opportunity when the Cards have the ball.
The result, against the best systematic defense in the land, Louisville, during the heart of the battle, went 11:02 without scoring.
* * * * *
This was a game where the eye test was a far more accurate barometer than some key stats would indicate.
Some numbers appear to give an advantage to U of L. Better shooting percentage. More rebounds.
But the game turned on what the Freedom Hall scoreboard used to dub “Hustle Stats.”
Turnovers: Cards 11, UVa 2.
Blocks: Cards 3, UVa 4.
Steals: Cards 2, UVa 8.
* * * * *
Bottom Line, for me.
This was not an awful defeat. Virginia, even without Justin Anderson, is one of the country’s five best teams. They were playing at home. It’s February.
But this ’14-’15 U of L Cardinal team remains, and shall probably continue to remain, befuddling. There is talent, but not cohesion. There is some depth, but no balance.
Just how much success Rick Pitino can wring from this odd amalgam is going to be fascinating to see.
One must assume, he’ll be clean shaven henceforth while trying to weave some red & black magic.
Next: Pitt in the commercialized confines of the Yum!.
— Seedy K