Breaking the glass ceiling

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It’s been a wild couple of weeks in college basketball to kick off the New Year. Even those Virginia fans who began the season without gray hairs may start examining their manes more closely following a few early ACC games that I think many would agree were too close for comfort.

However, despite the potential nervous breakdowns and burgeoning ulcers the Cavaliers may have caused their fans during the start of conference play, they have rewarded their faithful with a 15-0 start — the team’s best in 34 years. As one of two undefeated teams remaining after Duke fell to NC State Sunday afternoon in Raleigh, it stands to reason that Virginia deserves to be mentioned as one of the top two teams in the nation.

But throughout the last two weeks, the Cavaliers have faced criticism from some pundits for having to grind out their wins down to the wire, rather than posting more 15, 20, or even 49-point blowouts (sorry Hahvahd).

Take CBS’s Seth Davis for instance, one of the worst offenders in my opinion. On a particularly unreasonable day — Jan. 4, to be exact — Davis ranked Virginia sixth behind Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, Louisville and Gonzaga, the latter three of which had one loss to Virginia’s zero.

If the Cavaliers had not played anyone to that point I would understand, but they had already posted sound double-digit wins against Davis’s 11th and 13th-ranked teams in Maryland and VCU, as well as against one of his “tied for 26th” teams in George Washington.

This slight led me to ponder why Davis — along with other pundits — would claim Virginia was “extremely fortunate to escape at Miami in double overtime,” while Kentucky — hyped as possibly the greatest college basketball team in history — gets the benefit of the doubt when Basketball Nation needed overtime to earn a “gritty” three-point win in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena against 9-4 Ole Miss. Or better yet, a double overtime, six-point road win against unranked Texas A&M — a team playing without their leading scorer.

Why, I ask, is it a fault when the Cavaliers don’t play a perfect game — a fault worthy of falling three spots to Davis, it seems — but when the Wildcats need overtime or double overtime, it’s merely because they’re simply “hitting [the] snooze button,” according to ESPN’s C.L. Brown.

Why does ESPN’s Dana O’Neil credit Kentucky — as well as mentioning Duke, four-loss North Carolina, two-loss Kansas and seven-loss UCLA — with “learning to take every opponent’s best shot,” but not undefeated Virginia?

And finally, why does ESPN’s Jeff Goodman still insist that Kentucky and Duke are the top two teams in the nation after the Wolfpack outclassed the Blue Devils to the tune of a 12-point victory, leading by as many as 19 with under five and a half minutes to play.

Nevermind the fact that Virginia has only trailed by 12 once this season for a short period against Davidson. And I know the transitive property doesn’t apply to basketball in quite the same way as it does in that fancy math class with all the letters, but Virginia beat NC State by 10 points and absolutely controlled the game in crunch time—something great teams must be able to do, and something Virginia generally does very well.

When it comes down to it, it can be downright frustrating — as a Virginia fan who has watched this program’s transformation under Tony Bennett — to sit by and listen to pundits continue to question and doubt your team, but turn around and offer a free pass to the college basketball bluebloods (what a fitting term, given the situation) for similar “offenses.”

There is seemingly a glass ceiling in college hoops that Virginia has not broken through yet. While the Cavaliers have a basketball history dating back to Wally Walker and Ralph Sampson, Charlottesville has truly never witnessed sustained success comparable to a Duke, a North Carolina, a Kansas or above all, a UCLA.

I would hazard a guess that many current writers barely — if at all — remember a dominant Virginia team. I believe this is why many college basketball analysts have yet to acknowledge Virginia as an equal to Kentucky and Duke, despite the events of the last two weeks.

Those teams have been there before, and while it shouldn’t matter in the scope of this season, it would seem program prestige is one major contributing factor to the exclusion of the Cavaliers from ESPN’s Duke-Kentucky lovefest. Bennett’s Cavaliers appear to be tapping on this glass ceiling, as other Virginia teams have done in the past, but it will take more than a Sweet 16 appearance or two to break through. Luckily for Virginia fans, they seem to have found the right man for the job.

The University community clearly takes great pride in the basketball team’s success, and many fans — or “trolls,” as Davis affectionately refers to them — rush to the team’s defense when they feel national writers have slighted the Cavaliers.

But I’m here to advise Virginia fans to let it go. Besides the absolute meaninglessness of mid-season rankings, I can say with almost certainty that Bennett and his team would much prefer to fly under the radar and remain outside of the conversation for as long as possible.

Let go of your animosity toward Seth Davis and the Worldwide Leader, for they know not what they say.

Let go of your desire for the No. 1 ranking for the time being. Let Basketball Nation keep its No. 1 ranking and heck, let the one-loss Blue Devils keep their No. 2 ranking — let them be the hunted, and let the Cavaliers remain hungry for respect.

Let them proclaim Kentucky the undefeated champion for now, because as Bennett and his team know, the only No. 1 ranking they need is the one at the end of the season.

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