So, this must have been what Tony Bennett had in mind when he arrived from the West Coast and talked about building a program.
Bennett’s Virginia team is one of the hottest teams in the ACC, having won seven of its last eight games, and simply destroyed state rival Virginia Tech, 73-55 on Tuesday night in Charlottesville. Once given up for dead, the Cavaliers (18-6, 8-3 in ACC) have played themselves onto the NCAA’s bubble and shot holes in RPI theories that a team ranked 80th in that department isn’t supposed to do things like this.
After making an albeit brief visit to the NCAA Tournament last season before bowing out to Florida, opposing programs better watch out if Bennett’s Wahoos claw their way to an unexpected berth this season. The future in Charlottesville looks pretty bright.
Not so much in Blacksburg.
Talk about two programs going in opposite directions, Virginia has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past two seasons and like any eye-popping Dow-Joneser, believes its stock should soar in the coming years.
The Cavaliers are 15-1 at home and almost unbeatable in John Paul Jones Arena, with only three games left in the building this season: Georgia Tech, Duke, Maryland. Don’t discount the notion of the Wahoos knocking off the highly touted Blue Devils from their perch.
Bubble schmubble. If UVa wins those three, and gets at least one more on the road (UNC, Miami, BC, FSU), it’s going to cause some very interesting discussion in the war room at the NCAA selection committee’s hotel come March Madness time.
Don’t think we’ve ever seen quite an odd situation of a team with an 80 RPI ranking (prior to last night’s game) tearing up its competition like this raging Virginia team has done over the past few weeks. Most teams ranked 80 in RPI can’t win seven of eight, or even seven of 18 for goodness sakes.
But back to last night. Virginia was dominating against Virginia Tech, winning its fourth straight over the Hokies, sweeping the two-game series for the second time in three years and winning its fifth in the last six meetings.
From the opening moment, you knew this one was all Wahoos.
Joe Harris, the most accurate 3-point assassin in the ACC, kept firing daggers at the Hokies before the TV cameras had a chance to warm up.
“We hoped to slow [Harris] down a bit, but he came out of the gates blazing,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said of Harris, who had three 3’s in the first four minutes. “Before we could make the switch and get someone else on him, he already had nine points right in our mouth.”
Harris has shot his way into some lovely nicknames, “Joey Hoops,” and “Joey Buckets,” sort of taking off on the Texas A&M “Johnny Football” thing, and the UVa junior is having fun with it.
No, he hasn’t patented it. No, he has no preference.
“It sounds kind of cool and has a nice ring to it,” Harris chuckled after lighting up the Hokies for a career-high 26 points (7-for-12 overall, 5-for-7 from Bonusphere). “Either one, doesn’t matter.”
He actually ended up out-scoring the nation’s leading scorer, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, who finished with 22, but had only one point in the first half and ended up hitting only 4-of-17 field goal attempts on the night.
Which leads us to our next issue: the future.
Virginia has beaten the Hokies soundly in both meetings this season, by 16 in Blacksburg and 18 in Charlottesville. You get the feeling these two crusty old rivals could play 10 times, heck 15, and the result would be just about the same.
Bennett’s boys are a young bunch, only one senior of note, point guard Jontel Evans. Add redshirted Malcolm Brogden and transfer Anthony Gill and some talented freshmen point guards to next year’s roster and you have a dynamo of a team that should rival for the ACC title.
The Cavaliers could go on a very nice NCAA run over the next few years, one that would rival the days of Holland & Company.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s basketball fortunes are sagging, some might say dismal.
The Hokies dropped to 11-13, 2-9 in the league. Their defense is putrid and their offense is a one-man-show. Just think what Tech’s program is going to look like next year when Green takes his 25 points per game and runs.
“I think [Green] was trying to get the other guys involved a little bit,” Johnson said. “We don’t have time for other guys to get involved because then Erick starts standing around and we need Erick to be the aggressor right now.”
Right now, yesterday and every day.
While former coach Seth Greenberg wore out his welcome in the Hokies athletic department, you have to admit that he ran a good program. My philosophy is, don’t fire a coach unless you’re certain his successor is going to be at least his equal if not better.
Not sure that’s the case in Blacksburg.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will bask in the glory of dominating their rivals.
“Coming in here, I didn’t really realize the magnitude of the rivalry, but I would compare it to Washington vs. Washington State,” said UVa’s Harris, who hails from that state. “You know, over the years you come to build up this dislike for Tech. All the fans around you who have grown up here are so passionate about the game and the rivalry, so it becomes instilled into you.”
For Evans, it’s a sweet time in his career after taking some lumps from the Hokies his freshman season.
“It feels good to dominate them,” Evans smiled. “To sweep them my senior year really feels good.”
One team’s stock going up. The other’s, not so much.