The Roundtable: Which spring sports teams are poised for success?
Answering the hottest questions about baseball, men’s lacrosse and more
- What was your biggest takeaway from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?
Zach Zamoff, Senior Associate Editor: My biggest takeaway from this year's NCAA Tournament was, despite notable upsets, the dominance of college basketball's blue blood programs down the stretch. Of course, the biggest upset of the tournament — and the one most agonizing in Charlottesville — was Virginia's historic loss against No. 16-seeded UMBC. The Retrievers became the first team to complete the No. 16 seed over No. 1 seed upset. Yet despite this upset and a number of notable runs by underdogs — including Loyola Chicago’s miraculous Final Four run — college basketball's historically dominant programs prevailed at the close. In particular, Michigan ended Loyola's Cinderella story, Kansas made it to the Final Four and Villanova won its second National Championship in three years. Villanova's dominance as the best program right now in college basketball counters the one-and-done narrative, with their team leaders being juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.
Emma D’Arpino, Senior Associate Editor: The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this tournament is that flukes happen. This loss didn’t change my perception of how good this Virginia basketball team was — they won over 90 percent of their games this season and absolutely dominated the ACC. Having said that, I do think this performance confirmed that Virginia needs to get more comfortable under the national spotlight and they need to embrace high expectations rather than feel pressured by them.
Colin Cantwell, Associate Editor: Though some blame certainly falls on the Virginia defense for giving up 53 second-half points to a No. 16 seed, the lack of offensive production from the Cavaliers was what really made that game a blowout. The Cavaliers lacked a consistent threat who could provide a spark when the entire team was missing shots, which can partially be chalked up to the absence of the injured redshirt freshman guard De’Andre Hunter, who was that player much of the season. Still, one player’s injury shouldn’t be enough for the top-ranked team in the country to be blown out in the Round of 64. Virginia was unable to get quality shots to close the gap late in the game and was taking and missing desperate threes instead, and I think both the players and the system have some responsibility for that.
Alec Dougherty, Editor: I wrote a several weeks ago comparing Virginia and Villanova, looking into who really is the best team in the country. As great of a run as Virginia had leading up to the NCAA Tournament, Villanova left no doubt as to who was the best team this season with a thoroughly dominant tournament run. Junior guard Jalen Brunson deserves player of the year honors for his game-changing play, and with an incredibly talented supporting cast that carried the Wildcats through the final rounds — including sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo in the title game — Coach Jay Wright topped off a masterpiece of a season. As consistent as Virginia was, Villanova was the team destined to win it all.
- Which spring sports teams, if any, have the best shot at winning an ACC Tournament?
ZZ: Unlike in previous years, there’s no clear choice. The ACC is an outstanding conference, and while most spring sports teams are performing well, none have a clear path to a conference title. That being said, the team with the best chance looks like Virginia’s women’s lacrosse team. Ranked No. 6 in the nation, the Cavaliers are currently 3-2 in ACC play, most recently falling in to No. 2 Maryland. The scoring talent of junior attacker Avery Shoemaker and others is sure to put Virginia in position to contend in their conference tournament. The Golden Eagles are likely to be the primary obstacle in their path come the ACC Tournament.
ED: Rowing has dominated the ACC Tournament, winning 17 out of the 18 titles since the conference started. Even as the conference gets tougher, there is no reason to doubt that the Cavaliers won’t come out on top of the ACC for yet another year. There are some other sports that might have a shot at winning the trophy — women’s lacrosse is one — but with the difficult roads they face to getting there, it’s hard to say whether they’ll be able to get the job done.
CC: This has been a tough year for many of Virginia’s traditionally strong spring programs. Men’s tennis has lost many key performers from last season’s national championship team and already has three losses in the ACC, while baseball is struggling with injuries and inconsistency and is off to its slowest start ever. Women’s lacrosse, though it also has two losses in the ACC, is ranked No. 6 in the country, but top-ranked Boston College is undefeated this season so far. I don’t see any Virginia team on course to win the ACC Tournament this year, but women’s lacrosse is probably the closest to making a run come tournament time.
AD: I’ll agree with Emma on this one. Even if baseball and men’s tennis were in better position this year, the rowing team’s sheer dominance against ACC foes and other national talent should not be slept on. Just over the weekend, the Cavaliers took down No. 5 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State in yet another big performance at a regatta, showing they can rise up to defeat top teams. Expect their hot play to continue into the postseason.
- Will men’s lacrosse get a conference win?
ZZ: Absolutely. While men’s lacrosse fell short against Syracuse and Notre Dame earlier in the year, they certainly possess the talent and drive to end their four-year victory drought in ACC play. They lost to both the Orange and Irish by narrow margins, and have already picked up eight non-conference victories. The attacking trio of sophomore Michael Kraus, sophomore Dox Aitken and freshman Ian Laviano is deadly, and Virginia can score with the best of them. The Cavaliers’ challenge will be locking down at the defensive end, and other defensemen stepping up to help senior captain Scott Hooper. Virginia should have a good shot to end their ACC woes this Saturday at Chapel Hill, as the Cavaliers take on a reeling North Carolina team that has lost its last five contests.
ED: Even though the conference is so challenging, I think Virginia will be able to walk away with a conference win this season. They only just missed out on winning against other ACC opponents and they clearly have the talent to take down skilled teams. North Carolina will be their best chance, given that the Tar Heels have been struggling. And since they’ll get to face Duke at home — even though the Blue Devils are one of the best teams in the country — I wouldn’t be surprised if Virginia finds a way to win.
CC: Virginia visits North Carolina next Saturday, and I think this could be the game in which the Cavaliers finally win in the ACC. The Virginia team is talented, playing a close game against Johns Hopkins despite losing late and beating Richmond this past weekend, while North Carolina has lost five straight games, including against Richmond.
AD: With conference games against North Carolina and Duke remaining, the Cavaliers have two prime opportunities to steal a win. The Tar Heels recent struggles make them vulnerable to a home loss this weekend, and while Duke has only lost twice this season, they have hardly looked dominant in ACC play, defeating North Carolina by only a goal. The X-factor for stopping both teams’ high-powered offenses will be freshman goalie Alex Rode, who has saved over 53 percent of the shots he has seen. Rode established himself nicely as the Cavaliers’ starting goalie and is getting better by the week.
- With six regular season series left, what does baseball need to do to turn their 4-8 ACC record into a winning one?
ZZ: Virginia baseball has struggled mightily this season, especially against ACC competition. A team normally among the nation’s best has had a painfully mediocre season, plagued by injuries and a lack of consistency. First, the Cavaliers need two of their best hitters to return from injury — junior preseason all-American outfielder Jake McCarthy has been out for a prolonged period of time, and senior catcher Caleb Knight will remain out to start this week. Virginia’s pitching, normally its saving grace, has not been consistent this year, despite posting a lower ERA (3.92) compared to last season (4.10). In order to resurrect their season and their postseason hopes, the Cavaliers need to heal up and generate more offensive consistency.
ED: This season has been a rough one for Virginia baseball, and the ACC has proved to be a major challenge for the Cavaliers. They still have some tough conference opponents to face, such as Clemson and Louisville, so it won’t be easy for them to get the five series wins they’ll need to get to a winning conference record. However, if they do have a shot at getting it done, they’ll need to improve offensively. They had a seven-run homerun drought up until the first game of their series against Pittsburgh last weekend, and that is something that will need to change in order for them to pick up more wins.
CC: The baseball team has had awful luck with injuries this season, losing key outfielders Cameron Simmons for the entire year and Jake McCarthy for a few more weeks. Virginia’s starting pitching — especially junior Daniel Lynch and senior Derek Casey, has been excellent recently — and the Cavaliers have simply been coming up on the wrong end of some pitcher’s duels because the offense has not been able to produce. Once McCarthy recovers from his injury, hopefully the team will be able to pull out a few more of those close games.
AD: The offense needs to be fixed, which will be much easier said than done with so many injuries. Without the pitching depth necessary to keep games low-scoring, the offense has not been able to adjust and carry the team as it did last year. A power bat will likely have to emerge for Virginia to start winning games, since only three player posses a slugging percentage over .400 on the team. If that doesn’t happen, the team can look to use small ball to their advantage, if they can get a healthy McCarthy and sophomore infielder Cayman Richardson going on the basepaths. The pair are a combined 14-14 on stolen base attempts this year.