While most people were prepping for St. Patrick’s Day parties across the nation, this morning started like every other morning these past 2 months for UVa fans. Wake up, grab a cup of coffee (or Monster), check email and Twitter, and look at each other and just shrug. The standard non-verbal conversation Wahoo fans have adopted is the mixture of disbelief, amazement, and rationalization, in that order. Nobody could believe that Virginia was going to do as well as they were, nobody could comprehend what was going on, but everybody knew that it was going to come to the end.
And why not? A basketball season is finite. Sure teams play more games than others when you get to the postseason, but there has to be a conclusion. And while UVa was on this miracle run, many media outlets wanted to tell Virginia and their fans WHEN it would come to an end.
This was evident at the beginning of the season. Virginia was picked to finish 4th in the ACC by 4 votes over Notre Dame, a nice consolation from the Carolina boys that look at the Hoos as a possible nice story, but not contenders. In addition, the face of Virginia hoops, Joe Harris, missed out on the Preseason Player of the Year honor by 1 vote to CJ Fair, a worthy candidate, but someone who hadn’t played a single ACC game.
The sub-story to the media day was schedule. With the new 15-team league, only a handful of games would be ‘home and home’, and of course, no one could break up the natural rivalries. Virginia would have to play VT, picked last in the ACC, and Maryland, their final season in the league. The other two game were Notre Dame, again the team picked just 4 votes behind UVa, and Florida State, the last team to beat Virginia in Charlottesville in ACC play. No one, NO ONE, at that point had an issue, cause we were an afterthought.
Then Virginia started to win. This brought the naysayers out. “Well they only got Duke once and they lost.” “Well UVa got UNC before they got good.” “Well they only beat Pitt on a last second shot.” “Let’s see what they do against Syracuse.” And while Virginia was winning, other teams were losing. Pitt lost 3 straight including FSU at home. North Carolina lost to Wake and Miami. Duke lost to Clemson and Wake. Syracuse lost to Boston College. All of those teams Virginia beat, and beat handily, but still after the regular season, where Virginia won the ACC by 3 games, still were not viewed by anyone as a product of conference’s quest for money and, the phrase we have come to embrace, an “unbalanced schedule.”
So the Hoos roll into the ACC Tournament as the top seed. But don’t worry, North Carolina and Duke were on a collision course to play in the finals. Virginia would be happy with a win on Friday and a decent seed in the tourney. Because seriously, Virginia hadn’t made it to the Semis since 1995, the finals since 1994, and won it since 1976, so we would be happy with a win. Even after scrapping out a win against Pitt, most ‘media types’ were quick to point out the “missed” And-1 call and gloss over the Duke foul at the end of the Clemson game.
Sunday morning came, and it was another chance for the mainstream to point out who was really the best team in the ACC, and with half of the ESPN crew Durham homers, you could see them strain to point out anything good Virginia has done, even shooting down the highlighted Digger Phelps saying this would be a ‘payback’ game. Duke gave Virginia all they could handle, but after Coach K abused that poor, poor white board pen, he threw everything he could at the Hoos. But composed as ever, Tony Bennett made counter adjustments and grinded out Duke. Virginia had their elusive title.
From 3pm to 6pm, Virginia fans went through a range of emotions. Excitement over the double title, but not concerned to see if a selection committee would look at UVa as a top seed. People kept saying Michigan would get it, but they were getting schooled in the Big 10 final by Michigan State. Well, no doubt Villanova, who exited on a last second shot by Seton Hall early in the Big East Tourney had done enough throughout the year to hold off Virginia’s late conference charge.
In basketball, as in life, it is difficult to convince people that give you, as Rodney Dangerfield once coined, “No Respect”, to flip and give you, what Aretha Franklin beautifully crooned “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. Sometimes, you can do everything right, but whether it is a preconceived notion or external influences, it might never be enough. At approximately 6:40pm, Virginia took what looked like that last leap, the elusive #1 seed. It might not mean much to some people, but for a fan base that has endured so much, so recently, it mattered. It mattered to tears.
As the dust settled on Sunday, Virginia and their fans are back to their normal position: the role of the underdog. Show me someone in the media that is picking Virginia to make it out of the Sweet 16 and I’ll show you a fool. If it’s not Michigan State, it will be Iowa State or Villanova. If they get through that it will most definitely be Florida. Or Arizona. Or Wichita State.
Don’t tell that to Preseason #4 Virginia.
Don’t tell that to Regular Season Champion Virginia.
Don’t tell that to ACC Tourney Champion Virginia.
Don’t tell that to ACC Tourney MVP Joe Harris.
They’ve heard it before.