Events of the past week have only served to reinforce an opinion I’ve held for many years.
While games against opponents like North Carolina and Duke bring out the fans and increase media attention, just as important for the Virginias of the men’s basketball world are match-ups with the likes of Wake Forest, Clemson and Georgia Tech, particularly on the road.
UVa (20-10, 10-7 ACC) put its NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy this week when it dropped road games to Boston College 53-52 and Florida State 53-51. The Cavaliers earlier had beaten both of those teams in Charlottesville, by 14 and 20 points, respectively.
At the beginning of the week, there was a four-way tie for eighth place in the ACC between Clemson, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Know what else those teams had in common? All of them owned home-floor victories over Virginia.
What has to be so maddening for UVa fans is that virtually all of the losses have gone down to the wire. In its last three road games, Virginia has gone into the last 10 seconds of the game either tied or with the lead and the Cavaliers have come out 0-3.
Moreover, none of the games has gone to overtime. Miami hit the go-ahead basket with 5.9 seconds left in a 54-50 victory in Coral Gables, Fla., Boston College went ahead on a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left and Florida State scored with 4.4 seconds left.
On top of that, Virginia didn’t get off a shot at the end of any of those three games. Paul Jesperson threw away an inbounds pass at Miami, Jontel Evans dribbled out of bounds at Boston College and Joe Harris lost control of the ball while headed upcourt Thursday.
FOR THE SECOND GAME in a row, UVa coach Tony Bennett conceded Thursday night that maybe he could have called a late-game timeout.
Actually, he did call a timeout following a Michael Snaer free throw with 4.4 seconds left Thursday, but where the Cavaliers really needed a timeout was on the next-to-last possession.
UVa, leading 51-50, had rebounded a Michael Snaer miss with 59 seconds but all it had to show for the ensuing possession was an off-balance lay-up attempt by Akil Mitchell, forced to improvise when the original play fell apart.
Senior point guard Jontel Evans had the ball out front, as he usually does, with the plan to get the ball to leading scorer Joe Harris. It was pretty easy to figure out that the Cavaliers wanted to get the ball to Harris, or at least the Seminoles figured it out.
Bennett had enough timeouts remaining that, when the original play broke down, he could have called a timeout with 35-40 seconds remaining and set up another play.
There was a similar situation on a late possession in the Boston College game, when Evans was obliged to throw up a desperation shot at the end of the shot clock, only to dive to the floor, grab the ball and call a timeout before the Eagles could tie him up.
ALL SEASON LONG, at least that part of the season since Evans’ permanent return from foot surgery, he has been the go-to guy at the end of the shot clock.
When 10 seconds remain, the Cavaliers spread the floor and Evans drives into the lane, either drawing a defender and passing to a teammate, passing to the wing for a 3-pointer or taking the shot himself.
Sometimes the shots have fallen but the slightest bit of attention from a taller post player reduces the chance for success. Nobody plays harder than Evans and nobody cares more, but when he’s the No. 1 option at the end of the shot clock, that’s risky.
Opponents show such disregard for Evans’ offense in the halfcourt that he can be standing 1-2 steps inside the 3-point line and his defender will have his heels to the lane. There were numerous occasions Thursday night when the Seminoles seemed to be playing 5-on-4.
VIRGINIA DOESN’T HAVE many options at point guard and Evans’ defense and ball-handling make him practically indispensable. But having the offense go through him in these late-game situations doesn’t seem like the best strategy.
Going into Sunday’s regular-season finale against visiting Maryland, the Cavaliers are 1-6 in games that have been decided by four points or fewer and are 2-8 in games decided by six points or fewer.
Given those numbers, it’s a wonder UVa is in the NCAA conversation at all.