Louisville may have just wiped away their NCAA tournament hopes in the most unfathomable way possible.
After leading No. 1 Virginia by as many as 13 points in the second half, the Cardinals still led 66-62 with six seconds left after a pair of free throws from Darius Perry. On the ensuing possession, they fouled Ty Jerome shooting a three. He made the first two, but on the third free throw, Virginia committed a lane violation. Louisville took the ball out of bounds but no one told Deng Adel that he could not run the baseline.
Then this happened:
Virginia wins, 67-66.
This loss is an absolute killer for the Cardinals. It was about as well as you can expect to see them play this season. Deng Adel got into the lane whenever he wanted to, Quentin Snider made some big threes and, most importantly, Louisville’s defense came to play. This should have been their marquee win, the one that earned David Padgett a trip to the NCAA tournament as a an interim head coach.
They still might get there, but they now have that much more work to do.
But to me, the story here is less about Louisville than it is about Virginia.
The Cavaliers are the No. 1 team in the country, and for those that rank teams based on résumé and body of work, there really isn’t much of an argument to be made against that. They are all-but locked into a No. 1 seed, and even with another loss or two UVA looks like they will end up being the No. 1 overall seed. They’re ranked No. 1 on KenPom in large part due to the fact that their defense is operating at nearly-unprecedented levels.
But I have my doubts about their ability to make a run in the Dance, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Virginia just doesn’t have anyone that scares an opponent offensively. Kyle Guy is a talented shooter, but when he’s running off of screens he’s really only a threat to catch-and-shoot. He’s not Joe Harris. He’s not Malcolm Brogdon. Devon Hall can play that role, but I don’t think he’s consistently aggressive enough. De’Andre Hunter is Virginia’s best longterm prospect but he’s not quite ready enough to dominate at this level. Ty Jerome makes a lot of big shots, but he also loves settling for 26-footers in crunch time.
Look at the four possessions that Virginia had on Thursday night after they tied the game at 58. This is what happened:
- Jerome turns the ball over trying to hand-off to Hall.
- Hunter gets whistled for a charge.
- Jerome drives into traffic and gets bailed out on a foul call.
- Guy drives the ball into traffic and does not.
For me, the concern with this Virginia is really that simple. And it really scares me if they happen to run into a team that is just good enough on the defensive end of the floor.
A team like Louisville.
The Cardinals are not what they have been in the past. They are not one of college basketball’s elite defenses like they were so often under Rick Pitino. But they are a top 20 defense on KenPom, one that can do enough to slow down a team that doesn’t have anyone that sniffs the National Player of the Year conversation.
Virginia fans are going to get this twisted, so let me be perfectly clear: The Wahoos are a top five basketball team in college basketball this season.
But their lack of a go-to scorer makes it difficult for me to see them winning four games in a row in March, let alone making a run to the national title.