Tag Archives: Duke Basketball

Virginia’s Win over Duke is a Big Win for College Basketball

The scoreboard in Durham read:

Virginia 65

Duke      63

But the bigger story was this:

Real College Basketball – 1

NBA Minor League – 0

The University of Virginia scored a big win for college basketball on Saturday. Virginia, notched an improbable, but not shocking win against the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham, otherwise known as the Duke Blue Devils.

Let’s be clear about one irrefutable truth – Duke has the most talent of any team in college basketball. I am not sure there is a close second. Kentucky maybe, but no other team has the wealth of talent that a Coach K has assembled at Duke. Duke has multiple NBA lottery draft picks on their roster. So how did UVa, who has zero NBA lottery draft picks on their roster, beat Duke at Cameron Indoor?

I am not sure it’s that hard to understand. Virginia is a tightly knit team of college basketball players who are completely vested and committed to the University of Virginia and the success of UVa basketball. Duke is a confederation of future NBA basketball players, none of whom give two rips about Duke, Durham, or college basketball unless it impacts their route to the NBA. In real world terms, the Virginia players are home owners with a vested interest in the success of their program. Duke’s players are renters, looking to move out as soon as they can. Which one of those is better for the long term prospects of the neighborhood? Which is better for college basketball?

I was awed by some of the jaw-dropping plays Duke made on Saturday. They are an impressive collection of massively talented basketball players. To their credit, the Duke one-and-dones seem like good kids in addition to being ridiculously talented athletes. They are not dirty cheap-shot artists, like Grayson Allen. They are not foul-mouthed cry babies…like Greyson Allen. The fab Freshmen at Duke have not emulated Grayson Allen, primarily because they don’t care about Grayson Allen or anything else about Duke basketball…and that’s why Virginia won on Saturday.

I think the one-and-done kids play hard. I think they would much rather win than lose. I am sure they work hard in practice. However, there is no doubt that the success of Duke basketball is not at the top of their list of priorities. Duke is a holding bin, a way station on the way to the NBA for all of Duke’s contributing players. While I am sure they like Duke and respect Coach K, if VCU could convince these kids that VCU was a better conduit to the NBA than Duke, there is no question these kids would punt the Devils and embrace the Rams. This is why Duke lost today. This is also why Duke lost to Boston College and NC State. When your NBA highlight reel is your highest priority, winning is nice, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

By contrast, Virginia’s players are fully vested in their university, their coach, and their program. Several of Virginia’s players will certainly have professional basketball careers and one or two might have long careers in the NBA. However none of Virginia’s starting 5 will be NBA lottery picks, but they will all be Virginia basketball legends and adored by Virginia fans for the rest of their lives.

There is no question that Virginia’s players love UVa. They love their coach. They love Charlottesville. By the time they graduate they will have spent 4 or more of their most formative years immersed in the culture of UVa, Charlottesville, and the Virginia basketball program. They are part of the fabric of UVa. They bleed for UVa. Duke’s current crop of fab-freshmen will spend the obligatory 8 months in Durham before moving on to the NBA. While I am sure they would like to win the ACC championship and the NCAA tournament, the Virginia players would given their first born to bring championships home to Charlottesville. That’s why the Bad News Bears won today. It is why Virginia will remain relevant on the national stage as long as Tony Bennett is leading the program.

I have no illusions that Virginia is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year.  I will be thrilled if they can win the ACC regular season. It is a long road ahead and Virginia has to clear many high hurdles to win the ACC much less win the NCAA championship. By the time March rolls around, less talented legs are tired and the Duke thoroughbreds might be in a better physical condition to make a tournament run. However, if the winner of the Big Dance comes down to heart and determination, a real college team like Virginia will be tough to beat and fab-freshmen can move on to the NBA, making room for next year’s mercenaries.

Virginia Basketball – If it Ain’t Broke…

An unusual thing happened last week. Someone actually read one of my articles. It was then generously posted to the very active and opinionated Wahoos247 Forum where an internet food fight ensued over the future of the Virginia basketball program. I thought it was worthwhile commenting the differing opinions on the paths to Virginia success

It is my strongly held opinion that Virginia basketball is on the right track and that facts support my position. Tony Bennett has cracked the code to winning in big time college basketball without sacrificing the values and traditions of The University at the altar of the NCAA tournament gods. Virginia is on an historic trajectory. While Virginia can and should continue to upgrade the overall talent in the program, Coach Bennett’s system and program is not predicated on being a “one & done” NBA farm team. I would contend that most of Virginia’s fan base and donor community does not want Virginia to become another NBA minor league franchise, even if that is the price for an NCAA crown.

Shockingly, not everyone agrees with me. There is a vocal contingent of the Virginia fan base that enthusiastically believes Coach Bennett needs to step up the tempo of his program. Their belief is that top talent is required to win the NCAA tournament and that Virginia will never attract required talent with our current pace of play. They contend that while we don’t need to be a run & gun program, we need to push the fast break and create more secondary break opportunities. This is what top shelf talent wants in their pre-NBA experience and Virginia needs to adjust or stagnate at current levels of success.

Borrowing General McAuliffe’s reply to the German request for surrender in the Battle of the Bulge, I say “Nuts!”

It is important to note that no matter which side of the argument fans fall, everyone speaks of Tony Bennett in glowing terms. The man, the coach, the mentor, Tony Bennett is an exceptional leader. Some just want him to evolve his program from where it exists today into a more recruit-friendly, mainstream-fan friendly pace of play.

Unfortunately for that segment of the Virginia fan base, the facts are the facts. Virginia is on an historic run of success under Coach Bennett. For the first time in Virginia basketball history, Virginia will make the NCAA tournament for the 4th consecutive year. Virginia made the tourney 3 years in a row under both Terry Holland and Jeff Jones, but Tony Bennett will eclipse those marks this year. Depending on how well Virginia does in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, in 2017 Virginia will win the most games in program history over any given four-year period. Additionally, over the past 6 years, including the current incomplete season, Tony Bennett has won more games than any other 6-year period in UVa basketball history. Tony Bennett’s teams win. They win with a unique and consistent brand of basketball against the best teams in the nation that sport the top ranked talent in the nation.

Those clamoring for adjustments to Coach Bennett’s program as well as those like me who feel that we are on the correct path want the same thing. We all want to see Virginia win the NCAA tournament. We just disagree on how we get there.

For the same reasons that I wrote the initial article on Virginia basketball, I remain convinced that Tony Bennett has Virginia on a path to win it all in the near future and that dramatic change to the program would be the least likely path to success.

During the “Sampson Years”, Virginia’s other golden era for basketball, Virginia’s success was tied directly to its talent level. Specifically, Virginia’s success was tied to Ralph Sampson, arguably college basketball’s best player ever. When Ralph graduated, Virginia basketball was still good, but it was no longer in the national conversation and it declined over time as Virginia was not able to attract the talent to contend with college basketball’s blue-bloods. Finishing second for top recruits like JR Reid and Alonzo Mourning, no one was complaining about Virginia’s pace of play back in the day. Virginia was just the perpetual silver medalist for the top players in the country.

By contrast, Virginia’s current success is linked to its system, to its culture, and to its maddening defense and deliberate offense. Winning the Virginia-way requires exceptional attention to detail and basketball acumen. An unassailable 6-year record of success unquestionably suggests, that this is the recipe for Virginia to remain among college basketball’s elite programs. Talent levels for programs like Virginia will spike and recede. Virginia will never, in any scenario, sign a plethora of 5-star, top 25 recruits year in and year out like Kentucky and Duke. Instead, Tony Bennett and his system will weather the fluctuations in program talent and continue to win.

Ralph Sampson playing for Virginia was one of the most exciting times in the history of Virginia athletics. It was also a fluke. It is possible that Virginia could sign a player of Ralph’s talent again and keep him for 4 years…it is also possible that I could win the lottery next week too.

Rather than tie Virginia basketball success to selling our souls for the services of 18-year old, pre-NBA prima donnas for a single season, I would rather follow the path that has led us to the greatest sustained period of success in Virginia basketball history. Continued program success, winning big games against the elites of college basketball, and graduating players like Justin Anderson, Joe Harris, and Malcolm Brogdon to successful careers in the NBA will keep good talent interested in playing at UVa. Will it be top shelf, one & done talent? Nope. Do we need that type of talent to win it all? Nope.

As my investment advisor tells me, “past performance is no guarantee of future success”, but for Virginia basketball, it provides a pretty good roadmap of how Virginia can remain in the national conversation for a sustained period of time. Dramatic change to the current course and speed of Virginia basketball would also violate one of life’s most time-tested tenets…if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

E-mail David at david.rayner@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.