Virginia basketball put together a great performance against Boston College to earn a quarterfinal matchup against No. 1-seed Duke, showing throughout the game the level of confidence it displayed before the beginning of its nine-game losing streak.
If Virginia can display this confidence against Duke, they will be competitive tomorrow.
The Cavaliers demonstrated offensive balance and confidence against Boston College amidst a raging flurry of negative consequences and losing, and in doing so, displayed a large amount of fight and grit. Virginia definitely repudiated any concerns that the team "left their toughness at the hotel."
Virginia in the first half of the season was able to compete against and defeat more talented teams. The first-half team should have beat Virginia Tech twice, Wake Forest at home, Penn State at home, Stanford in the Cancun Tournament, and Auburn away.
Perhaps the season would have turned out entirely different had the Cavaliers won those games, but they didn't. A nine-game losing streak ensued after the Wake Forest loss at home, crushing not only Virginia's tournament chances, but the hopes of the Virginia fans.
Virginia fans accept that their team is not talented enough to compete with the ACC's elite quite yet and understood preseason expectations of a losing season. However, Virginia fans were spoiled with early success and understand that the current squad has the ability to win games.
Thus, the nine-game losing streak was not only a matter of lesser talent, but lesser passion. Virginia's players, unlike the school's students, sunk in the face of adversity and had no fight. Such fear is unacceptable in competitive sport and Division I athletics.
The fans' ire with the team, to some extent, was somewhat justified.
Virginia looked extremely sloppy during the losing streak, committing uncharacteristic turnovers, taking bad shots, losing faith in Tony Bennett's defensive system, and being scared to get dirty on the boards. In a school that preaches "Uncompromised Excellence," such fear is unacceptable.
The recent events swirling around the team provided the ultimate test of this Virginia team's fight, and the team bereft to our expectations beat its adversity. In the team's darkest moment, when Virginia needed to fight back the most, they battled back and emerged stronger.
Amidst fierce criticism from the fans, the players fought back and pushed our criticism back in our faces.
I do not consider myself a huge believer in words, but I gleam with pride when Tristan Spurlock personally speaks with me and my friends (at Crossroads of all places) about his great hope for next year and when Jontel Evans posts a resolution on Facebook to move on from the past and work harder for the future.
I gleam with pride when I see Mike Scott quash any misconceptions about his "giving up" tweet with a tirade of tweets bashing us fans. I shed a tear of joy when I see him take the crap he's been thrown from us and hurl it back at us. We fans can take the criticism and shtick, and we gleam with joy that our team is showing the fight, resolve, and grit of winners.
Additionally, amidst the loss of Sylven Landesburg and Calvin Baker, the media and fan criticism, and the swirling rumors about roster flux and next year's team, Virginia pushed all of the noise aside and won on the court.
This demonstration of bullish fight on the emotional and performance fronts gives me great hope about the character of this Virginia team. While the talent and ability of the Virginia team will always vary, our character will remain constant in the immediate and long-term future.
Virginia played a confident defensive game today against Boston College and showed glimpses of the resolve that the team possessed in the first half of the season. Virginia's wolf-pack defense had more spunk and energy, which will hopefully continue and provide Duke with problems playing their in-out game.
Virginia should place all of their focus on the Duke game and the extension of this season, because the team's future is extremely murky and uncertain.
While Bennett's incoming recruiting class is talented and provides hope, the class still pales in comparison to Duke's, North Carolina's, Wake Forest's, Florida State's, Maryland's, and NC State's recruiting classes. Furthermore, the roster flux expected because of the signing of Billy Baron will cause internal turmoil.
Nonetheless, Virginia will improve in overall quality next year and compete for NCAA Tournament relevance. Virginia will channel its experiences and failures into positive gains, and hopefully, move beyond the "sophomore slump" it arguably experienced in the second half of this season.
The future of Virginia basketball is brighter than it has ever been, but will be contingent on mutual responsibility from the fans and players. The players have shown that they have the fight and resolve to will success next year, and the fans will need to recognize the team's bright light and resolve to push this team to unforeseen success.
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