The week that was: A look at men’s basketball’s up-and-down week

Despite a loss against Duke, the Cavaliers remain one of the best teams in the nation

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The No. 4 men's basketball team is averaging 72.6 points per game this season, higher than last year.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After a disappointing loss to No. 2 Duke at home Saturday and a great bounce-back win on the road against No. 8 North Carolina Monday, college basketball fans around the country are all wondering what to make of the Cavaliers. I’m here to provide that clarity and explain where the team stands. 

No. 4 Virginia is in the midst of its toughest stretch of the season — five games in a two week span with four coming against AP Top 25 teams. This is the stretch that everyone thought would show us who the Cavaliers really were. The games against Duke and North Carolina provided some answers, but there is still more to be learned. While the Cavaliers have yet to reach their ceiling, they are the second-best team in the country.

The game against Duke was peculiar. Despite forcing Duke into 15 turnovers and limiting the Blue Devils’ opportunities in the paint, Virginia still lost the game 81-71. It certainly helped that Duke shot 61.9 percent from three point range when their season average has only been 32 percent, yet the Cavaliers played almost as well as they are able to. But that is the key word — almost. It may take a near-perfect game for Virginia to beat a full-strength Duke squad.

After the letdown against Duke, Virginia had a quick turnaround and traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on the Tar Heels. It was a battle the whole way through, and the game was tied with four minutes to play. But the Cavaliers ended the game on a solid 10-2 run and came out on top, 69-61. The game was a testament to Virginia’s prowess on offense and defense and the unique ability of this year’s team to make comebacks.

After losing to arguably the best team in the nation and then moving on to beat one of the hottest teams in the college basketball, what should we make of this Cavalier team? Where do you place one of the best teams that only has two losses, but to the same team? Experts and fans will have differing opinions, but my take is that Virginia is still the second best team in the country.

When you look at the top teams in the country, each has an exposable flaw. Tennessee struggles on defense. Gonzaga has only played three ranked teams and has gone 1-2 in those games. Michigan often finds themselves struggling offensively. Virginia is the only team other than Duke that does not have one major exposable flaw. Duke is the only team that has been able to expose the Cavaliers’ weaknesses.

The Cavaliers are strong on both sides of the ball. They hold opponents to 54.4 points per game — best in the nation. They are also averaging 72.6 points per game, up from 67.1 points in the 2017-18 season. With the best defense in the country and a much improved offensive attack, Virginia presents problems to all of their opponents. Critics will say their two losses prevent them from being the second-best team. However, there are concrete reasons why they lost that should not be considered flaws. In their first loss to Duke, they shot an uncharacteristic 17.6 percent from three. In their second loss to Duke, they played well, but Duke shot an uncharacteristic 61.9 percent from three. These statistics and performances against the nation’s best prove Virginia is the second best team in the country.

But being the second-best team in the country is not enough, especially in Charlottesville. Duke, in my opinion, is the best team in the country by a sizable amount. The Cavaliers have the privilege of playing in the ACC with the Blue Devils and could very well meet them again in the ACC Tournament.

As much as I love to look forward and envision a potential third game against Duke, the ACC is way too dangerous for any team to look ahead into March. In their next three games, Virginia faces two more ranked opponents on the road — No. 22 Virginia Tech and No. 16 Louisville. Hopefully after these games, we will have some more clarity on where the Cavaliers stand in the national picture. But until then, we are left to speculate and argue amongst each other about what is going to happen and who is going to win it all. And if you ask a college basketball lover like me, that is just fine.

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