I want to believe Virginia basketball has the capability to be a team that will matter within the next few years, but the humiliating loss to Duke demonstrated that UVa's dreams for short-term success are more or less futile.
The Duke display showed Virginia fans that the current team not only lacks the talent to compete in the ACC and the national scene but also the heart to even compete in competitive college basketball at all.
Sylven Landesburg, no matter how hurt he really is, had to play against Duke. I am not in a position to judge the magnitude of injuries, but the team never explicitly told us the extent of his thigh injury. In a game against Duke, of all opponents, you buck up and give fans someone to cheer for. He instead withered away to irrelevance and earned the disrespect of every Virginia fan at John Paul Jones Arena.
Players shape their identities when the spotlight shines brightest, and Virginia players failed to rise to the occasion. It's not a good sign when the team's resident-nerd Jerome Meyinsse (no offense to Meyinsse; he is just a smart fella who recently won a prestigious scholarship for postgraduate study) is the saving grace for an ACC team.
Mike Scott can't figuratively disappear from the game, and Sylven Landesburg can't literally disappear from the game. Perhaps Virginia has no great players, since superstars are designated such when they consistently elevate team ability.
Virginia basketball never had the ability to beat Duke last Sunday, and Virginia basketball will never reach the stature of Duke basketball. I do my best to refrain from that comparison, although I believe that Virginia can follow Duke's recruiting philosophy model and become competitive again.
It is a bit ironic that Virginia's last relevant major opponent was Duke, since the two philosophically-similar teams which both stood on the pedestal of the ACC were headed in different directions.
Duke is often criticized for its lack of a point guard and lack of legitimate depth, which Virginia in the earlier part of the season was also criticized for. While Duke clearly has better talent than Virginia has, the comparison has an interesting amount of credence that provides hope for Virginia fans.
If Duke executes using a similar motion-heavy offense and pressure-heavy defense with comparatively similar personnel and depth, Virginia should strive for better next season.
This ambition for next season, however, starts with a change from the old-guard to the new-guard. It's pretty clear that the older players not only lack talent but heart. The Duke game provided many observable moments where players like Jontel Evens, Sammy Zeglinski, and Tristan Spurlock made the hustle plays and positive contributions, while Scott, Landesburg, and Baker disappeared.
Perhaps Bennett knew these qualities and acknowledged my observations from the beginning. As I mentioned in a previous article, Bennett's first recruiting class replaces like-for-like and provides an overall talent upgrade.
Maybe Johnson and Regan provide the heart Mike Scott currently (and apparently) lacks, and K.T. Harrell the heart Sylven Landesburg lacks. The aforementioned players carry similar talent, but that alone does not guarantee success as demonstrated in the latter part of this current Virginia season.
I truly want to not believe that Virginia's current players are good players going through a tough stretch, but I firmly believe that we can conclude that their losing streak involves not only bad luck and a lack of talent, but also a mental pitfall.
If Virginia truly were a tough team, they would have figured out how to buck up against clearly inferior teams like Miami and win the crucial ACC games required to get into at least the NIT. Unfortunately, Virginia does not have that mettle.
Or perhaps, Craig Littlepage should exercise caution before proclaiming Virginia potential ACC champs.
Photo courtesy of Jim Daves, UVA Media Relations
Editor's note (update): Mike Scott tweeted about giving up on the team before the Boston College game. How deplorable.