Skip to Content
College Basketball

Please Get Virginia All The Way Out Of My Face

DAYTON, OHIO - MARCH 19: Patrick Cartier #12 of the Colorado State Rams battles against Jacob Groves #34 and Dante Harris #1 of the Virginia Cavaliers during the first half in the First Four game during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at University of Dayton Arena on March 19, 2024 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

We long ago stopped being fazed by the notion of the NCAA Tournament play-in games because we can't get enough college basketball games this month, even ones that do not include Caitlin Clark. And while the NCAA insists on calling it the First Four, what it really is America's Junior Varsity Cavalcade.

And then you get a team like Virginia, a hard watch in even the best of times because head coach Tony Bennett is traditionally a foe of radical notions like pace. The Cavs took the floor Tuesday night against a decent but still modest Colorado State team and ended in the first percentile for points scored—as in 7,162 teams of the 7,200-odd NCAA teams to ever play a game scored more—in a 67-42 loss so visually unpleasant that all the NIT and CIT games were demonstrably better, and the other NCAA play-in game, Wagner-Howard, was downright sensational.

We're not here to kick the Cavaliers unnecessarily, mind you. It’s very necessary. Teams will shoot 25 percent from time to time, and some teams occasionally shoot 17 percent from three-point range, and a few will even shoot 64 percent from the free-throw line. Virginia doing all three just convinces us that the Cavs are more used to chasing down long rebounds than most. They missed 18 consecutive shots and went 59 minutes of real Earth time without scoring a point, showing that if nothing else we have different standards for different play-in games, and this looked a lot more like what we imagine a 16-vs.-16 game ought to look like, and actually doesn't.

In fact, Wagner's 82-77 win makes one think they could be that rarest of things, a live 16-seed. True, the logic bend required to imagine the Seahawks of Staten Island giving North Carolina a tussle is prodigious, if only because the average margin of defeat for a 16-seed coming off a play-in victory two days earlier is 25 points.

But Virginia has created a unique legacy of spectacular failure, which is amazing given that it won the 2019 national championship. They became the first one-seed to lose to a 16 when it took the knee to Maryland–Baltimore County in 2018, but that game at least had the angel dust of a miracle in the making. Winning the next year gave Bennett the absolution that nearly erased that moment of gall 12 months earlier, but two first-round exits as four-seeds, and Tuesday night's disaster against CSU, have given those horrors new life. It's almost as if 2019 never happened.

The best thing about the tournament is that you forget quickly who lost unless you are emotionally tied to the losing team. You have to speak specifically about Virginia to agonize about a game like last night's, and that's a relatively small constituency. Colorado State's win makes them a live 10-seed against Texas, but 10-seeds aren't as much fun for bracket nerds as 11s, 12s, or 13s, and nowhere near as much fun as 16s. Wagner was fun. Wagner could be really fun this weekend. It's not the way to bet, but a person can dream.

Virginia? Not fun. Not fun at all. Not bad players or people, mind you, but very hard on the eyes.

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read some more free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter