Sometimes a team (Virginia) is just meant to lose a game. When the opposing team’s 5th scoring option (Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang) calmly swishes the game winning 15 footer with 2.7 seconds left, then it’s one of those times. This was Louisville’s game to win, and a great game to watch. These were two well-coached, hard-nosed team battling it out throughout the night, neither wilting under the pressure, each team hitting clutch shots down the stretch. Virginia will benefit from this game as they head in to tournament play if they can use the rotten feeling of losing a game on an opposing team’s home court as motivation.
As Winter hangs on to its last, cold breath and the sun climbs higher and higher with its welcome sign that spring is indeed on the horizon, the college basketball regular season has come down to its last weekend. Fans of Kentucky and Virginia are no doubt looking forward to tournament play almost as much as the warmer, longer spring days, maybe more. The Wildcats, 30-0, should complete a remarkable undefeated regular season as it hosts the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena this afternoon. Later today, the Cavaliers, 28-1, will play at Louisville in a more interesting match-up on paper. But with the regular season now a foregone conclusion, the more compelling storylines for the top two teams in the country at this point are this: For Virginia, with Justin Anderson to miss additional time due to appendectomy surgery this week, have the Cavaliers decided ‘so be it’ and now plan to move on through tournament play without him? If the last seven games are any indication, the answer is ‘yes’. Virginia is simply deeper, tougher, and more resilient than its parts. They know who they are, they are tested, and they will not be deterred by the absence of one player. If they have to win it without Anderson, they will and they know they can.
For Kentucky, the most talented and maybe the best team in the country, could the Wildcats benefit from a loss before the NCAA tournament? (And thus relieve some of the legacy pressure to go undefeated, last accomplished by the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.) The answer, if you’re a true Kentucky blue blood, and more importantly, if you suit up in one of those vaunted uniforms (no matter how young or inexperienced a player you are ) that spells K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y on the front, is a resounding ‘NO’.
Bring on spring! Bring on the tournaments!