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Fan patience with exciting,

After emerging from my one-year tour of duty as Sports Editor for this publication, I decided to return to the real world and - for only about the fifth time in two years - actually attend a men's basketball game as a fan. I don't know if my heart can take a return visit.

Yes, I witnessed the Cavaliers' 88-82 win over N.C. State Saturday night. Yet by the time the game was over I was exhausted, and not just because I'd spent a good deal of time talking trash to the guy dressed as the Hardee's Star. (Note to the Star: Was it not enough that the poor guy at halftime was blindfolded? Did you have to move around too?)

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    Anyway, by now it's obvious to everyone who knows goaltending from cat wrangling that this Virginia team is not the best in the ACC. Then again, the Cavs are not even close to being the worst. So what are these Cavaliers, these young foolhardy warriors who battle against the best and brightest of the ACC? Well, I'll tell you.

    They're the most damn frustrating basketball team I've ever seen.

    The talent of this year's Cavalier squad is unquestioned. Virginia took Duke to overtime, hammered Georgia Tech and upset North Carolina.

    But if the Cavs are so good, why have they ...

    ? Lost to that same Yellow Jacket team in Atlanta, shooting 27 percent from the floor?

    ? Allowed Clemson to score 59 points in the second half in winning 98-91 Jan. 15? Keep in mind this Tiger team has only one true scorer. And lost to Wofford. At home.

    ? Displayed the annoying habit of only showing intensity after allowing the opposition to score in spurts of five, seven or 13 points at a time?

    ? Displayed the even more annoying habit of failing to make free throws in clutch situations after leading the entire ACC in free throw percentage last year?

    Now before all you hardcore Cavalier fans think I'm bashing Pete Gillen and his team, hold on for a second. Because although all these instances are frustrating - especially while sitting in the stands, as I learned Saturday - these trials and tribulations boil down to one simple two-word explanation: They're young.

    They're talented, gutsy and determined, but the last time any Virginia team made any progress in the postseason, Majestic Mapp, Roger Mason and the rest of the rookies weren't even in high school. No high school competition, not even at vaunted Oak Hill Academy, can totally prepare a player for the rigors of the ACC, much less what a game in the Conference Tournament is like. They've got no idea how loud the Dean Dome can get. They've never experienced the pressure of a win-and-you're-in game like the Cavs' season-ending victory over Maryland in 1997. Maybe they can step up under pressure and get the job done. Then again, they could crumble like they did in Durham and Atlanta.

    Either way, every game is a roller-coaster ride in which nothing is guaranteed. And despite the damage Saturday's game did to my central nervous system, I can't wait to see what the Cavaliers will do next.