UVA is rewriting how college basketball values its teams and players

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 24: Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers in action against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Petersen Events Center on February 24, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(WAVY) — The University of Pittsburgh is having a terrible basketball season.

Entering the weekend, it had lost 15 conference games in a row, but number 16 Saturday represented a nadir the school could never have anticipated.

Junior high teams generally score more than seven points in a single eight- minute quarter.  The Panthers tallied that in the entire 20-minute first half against visiting Virginia, and only one of those was a made shot from the field.   The final was 66-37.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s account of the UVa victory (its 15th in the ACC against one loss), “the 37 points were the third-fewest in a game (by Pitt) since the 1954-55 season. The Panthers’ 11 made field goals were tied for the second-fewest in a game in program history and their field-goal percentage (23.9) was the eighth-worst.”

Twice in the previous week, Pitt had been competitive at Florida State and at home against Wake Forest.  But few teams, with the exception of West Virginia and Virginia Tech, have either taken the measure of the top ranked Virginia Cavaliers or come close. Their margin of victory is 14.9, seventh best nationally.

It might be higher still if there were actually more points scored each game, but no team in the top fifty totals fewer or holds their opponents to less than Virginia. Call it boring, but having been to Charlottesville four times this season to watch my alma mater’s squad in action, it has been anything but to the butts in the seats at John Paul Jones Arena.

When the opponents’ 30-second shot clock hits 10, the crescendo builds.  Even a UVA made trey doesn’t evince the same applause as when the ref taps his head, signaling another foe’s failure to even graze the rim. I saw it in stark relief January 23 when Clemson scored no points in the final six minutes of the first half and only 13 in the second, falling 61-36.   This year UNC, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, NC State, Vanderbilt and Miami also did not reach 52 points in losses to Virginia.

While the pundits and skeptics await an “inevitable” collapse in the post season, this Tony Bennett coached contingent is rewriting how college basketball values production. Kyle Guy’s team high 14.5 points per game is only 17th best in the conference.   Devon Hall’s 11.8 is 39th.  Isaiah Wilkin’s team leading 6.4 rebounds per game would rank him just 18th in the ACC.  Ty Jerome’s 3.4 assists per game, tops among the Wahoos, is just the 14th loftiest in the league.

By the typical standard of best statistics equals best players, no one on Virginia should be All ACC, All America, or maybe even All Commonwealth of Virginia. Duke’s Marvin Bagley leads the ACC in points and rebounding.  UNC’s Luke Maye is fourth and second respectively. But both of their schools fell to Virginia. And even though Bagley had 30 points and 14 rebounds in the defeat, the fact is most of the heralded players who face UVA’s vaunted packline defense do not reach their season’s average.

Kyle Guy, who scored just three against Pitt, has belatedly been added to the list of potential candidates for the Naismith Trophy, awarded to the country’s “best” college player.  But he has no chance against the likes of either Bagley or the presumed favorite, Trey Young of Oklahoma, whose Sooners have slumped from the Top 10 in the nation to eighth in the Big 12.  Young is amazing, but Oklahoma’s system gives him many more chances to score and assist. If Guy was the shooting guard on a team averaging 80 or 90, one must assume he would be averaging twenty or more himself.  And Wilkins, generally regarded as the best defender in the ACC, would likewise be in some Player of the Year conversations.

But alas, only Tony Bennett can keep his stars below their “potential”. His goal is not their NBA draft positions but a regular season conference title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Check and check.   Virginia has never won a national title in basketball.  If they do on April 7 in San Antonio, the sport will never be the same again.

Joel Rubin, a 1975 graduate of the University of Virginia, is a former sports director at WAVY TV and is currently Chairman of the Board of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame