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December 18, 2012

Fan perspective on UVa's start

It was a night in Richmond that many UVa fans won't soon forget. And it was proof that while games can turn on one play, seasons can turn on one game.

November 28, 2001, a night that saw the Cavaliers come into the Richmond Coliseum ranked ninth by the Associated Press and eighth in the USA Today/ESPN poll, standing 3-0 on the season. That night the Hoos were slated to take on Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the Spartans were not too far removed from a championship run. Virginia held a 31-28 lead 15:04 left in the second half when the game was called due to unsafe conditions. As most everyone will remember, the unseasonably warm temperatures along with the ice surface under the playing surface produced condensation on the court. The game would not be replayed.

The Wahoos went on to finish that season with a 7-9 record in the ACC, advanced to the NIT, and lost to South Carolina to close the season. Virginia was arguably one marquee win away from the NCAA tournament that year. The refs calling that game at the Coliseum (where UVa returns this weekend for the Governor's Hoops Classic) in the second half could have been the difference.

Let's fast forward 10 years to last season. UVa was white hot to start the 2011-2012 campaign, minus a tough and uncharacteristic loss to TCU. Still, UVa looked poised to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Tony Bennett had his group playing a high level and had one of the ACC's best players in Mike Scott.

The Hoos competed down to the wire on the road at Duke, which is tough any year. They went to Atlanta and buzzed the Jackets 70-38. But it was in this effort that Virginia lost its defensive glue and stopper in the paint, Assane Sene. While UVa won a few games after the Georgia Tech game, the team never looked the same. To make matters worse, by time Virginia reached the ACC tournament it was completely depleted of its depth due to injury, with a seven-man rotation being the norm.

The cautionary tale of these two seasons should not be lost to any Wahoo fan. Yes, Virginia is having a nice start to the season and yes the team has rattled off seven-straight wins. But let the lesson be that all college basketball seasons are long and taxing. A team can change from Feburary to March, much less December to March.

This 2012-2013 edition of the Virginia men's basketball team could be another one in a line of these stories. While the Hoos are off to an 8-2 start, they are without their floor general in Jontel Evans. He's expected back sometime around the start of conference play but we can't think he'll just snap right back into things at top form.

In so many ways every season is a test and so far the Cavaliers have managed to pass with flying colors, especially due the outstanding and unexpected play of 6-foot, 180-pound freshman point guard Teven Jones. However, the ACC slate will start soon and thus begins the true test of his and this team's metal.

Jones is going to have the weight of the world on his shoulders come that time if the veteran Evans isn't at full strength.

So when you look around at NCAA projections, at Joe Lunardi's Bracketology for extra entertainment, or even dream up your own scenarios of what it will take to make the postseason, remember these lessons and know anything can happen.

And don't be surprised if and when it happens again.


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