Ratcliffe: Will the real Cavaliers please stand up - Cavalier Insider: Cavalier Insider

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Ratcliffe: Will the real Cavaliers please stand up

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Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 11:15 pm | Updated: 9:01 am, Wed Jan 8, 2014.

There used to be a TV game show named “Truth or Consequences.”

The idea was for a panel of celebrities to try and guess which of three contestants was the real person being described through clues brought up by questioning.

When the grilling was complete, host Ralph Edwards would always say: “Would the real so-and-so, please stand up.”

That’s probably something that Virginia coach Tony Bennett must be wondering about heading into tonight’s ACC home opener against Wake Forest. After getting blown out of the gym at Tennessee a little more than a week ago, the Cavaliers bounced back and scored an eye-popping win at Florida State.

Beating the Seminoles in Tallahassee has been a rare feat over the past decade. The fact that UVa essentially dominated FSU without All-ACC senior guard Joe Harris was downright mind-blowing, especially for anyone who had winced throughout the 40-minute debacle in Knoxville.

There is no doubt Bennett questioned his team’s identity in practices leading up to the trip to Tallahassee. The Cavaliers had to reestablish the trusty old pak yaks that are the blueprint of Bennett’s basketball philosophy: defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball, playing physical, non-negotiable traits in the Bennett family DNA.

Even the ever-wise young coach must have scratched his head after witnessing the contrast between Tennessee and FSU.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton probably couldn’t believe what he saw either. The UVa team that appeared to be plodding through mud in Knoxville, that couldn’t guard the perimeter, that took poor shots, that didn’t defend in the post, that couldn’t seem to do anything right, put it all together against his Seminoles.

“Virginia outplayed us in a lot of ways,” Hamilton said. “We did not match their energy or execution.”

In other words, Virginia did to FSU what Tennessee did to Virginia. The only difference was that the Cavaliers were a cooperating victim in Knoxville.

So, before Virginia takes the floor tonight at John Paul Jones Arena, forgive Bennett if he looks his team in the eye and asks:

“Will the real Virginia, please stand up?”

What we all expected was the team that showed up in Florida and not the one that laid an egg beside the muddy Tennessee River.

Harris, who missed most of the FSU game with concussion-like symptoms (his status for tonight’s game wasn’t known at press time), suggested following the loss at Tennessee that perhaps the Cavaliers had paid too much attention to all their preseason hoopla that declared them one of the nation’s top 25 teams, one of the ACC’s best four.

“We haven’t done anything,” Harris said.

If the Cavaliers find a way to successfully defend home court tonight against Wake, then UVa will have at least taken a giant step in the right direction. Beating FSU anywhere this season is something to feel good about, but only if Virginia can follow it up with a win over the Deacons, fresh off a win over nemesis North Carolina.

Wake has its own demons to deal with. Last year the Deacs were Oh-for-Nine on the ACC road. Didn’t scratch outside of Winston-Salem.

“We need to find a way to break the ice,” Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik said this week.

Bennett’s task is to make sure JPJ is frozen solid.

Virginia learned its lesson in the Volunteer State. The Cavaliers found out what happens when they’re not locked in, when they forget the Bennett disciplines.

“We were sort of wandering aimlessly,” Bennett remarked about that night.

It was the second-worst performance this columnist had personally witnessed by a Virginia basketball team during my three decades of covering the program. The worst? Oh, that’s an easy one.

Puerto Rico, still words that cause Dave Leitao to shiver. It was the San Juan Shootout in December of 2006. A 6-1 UVa team arrived in the Carribean expecting to walk through a not-so-tough field.

Instead, it was like someone put a voodoo curse on the Cavaliers. They lost to Appalachian State, were blown out by Utah and had to stage a dramatic comeback to narrowly escape a third straight tropical loss at the hands of the Division III Tarzans of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

I will never forget walking outside of the shoddy old arena in a neighboring town and seeing Leitao sitting alone on some concrete steps, his head between his legs, searching for answers.

His team looked like it would have rather been anyplace else in the world rather than on a basketball court for those three days. To say that Leitao was a little irritated would be the understatement of the century.

Most every Wahoo couldn’t believe what they had seen, somewhat similar to the Tennessee game last week when many a Cavalier fans was so discouraged, they cashed in their “Jump off the bandwagon cards” immediately afterward.

What I remembered was, that as bad as that UVa team performed in San Juan, it went on to win 14 of its next 21 games, tied for the ACC regular season championship and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Anyone who had been in Puerto Rico on that trip would have had a hard time swallowing the idea that team would make it to the Big Dance.

Maybe, just maybe, that dose of humility was what this Virginia team needed. It’s easier for a coach to get his team’s attention after a good, old-fashioned butt whooping.

Bennett said that sometimes a coach learns more about a team after its hardest losses.

Legendary Terry Holland used to say that sometimes you had to hit rock bottom before you could start climbing toward the top.

The Cavaliers tasted rock bottom and didn’t like the flavor. They can help themselves tremendously against a team they’ve only beaten once in the last nine tries, if they can freeze out the Deacs tonight.

Bon appetit.

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