NEMESIS: (nem●e●sis) noun - the inescapable agent of someone's or something's downfall
Disclaimer: If you're looking for a piece focusing on a bevy of "feel good" takes and opinions, this article might not be one you pen to your refrigerator................
Wile E. Coyote had the Road Runner
The Joker had Batman
Prinicipal Ed Rooney had Ferris Bueller
Kentucky Football has Florida Football
And, Rick Pitino has Tony Bennett........
Make no bones about, Virginia Basketball can be characterized as the unavoidable massive man hole located in the center of a one lane highway being driven along by a vehicle also known as The University of Louisville Men's Basketball program. After yet another emphatic and overly convincing demolition of the Cards last night it has become painfully obvious that the Cavaliers, led by their super suave head coach Tony Bennett, are undoubtedly the Cards most prominent one-sided arch nemesis.
Apparently style of play isn't just a cliché that is constantly thrown around by those who watch and report on men's college basketball. I mean how else could one logically explain the white knuckled death grip that Viginia clearly has placed around the wind pipe of Louisville Basketball? The level of borderline domination is almost fascinating and for UofL fans, equally as frustrating.
Does Virginia simply recruit better players than Louisville? While I certainly respect the talent level that Bennett has brought to Charlottesville, I don't think there is that much talent disparity when comparing the two schools' rosters and this would apply since the Cards entered the ACC.
Another question to ponder, is Tony Bennett just a better coach than Rick Pitino? I would argue that Bennett has certainly risen up the ranks as one of the best in the business but there's no way short of a case of beer that I could ever make such an assertion with a straight face. Pitino is as proven of a commodity as any coach in all of D1 basketball and has even found ways recently to defeat John Calapari.
So does this whole enigma of invincibility really boil down to as just mentioned, style of play? Personally, I think it's a major factor but only part of the story. The first thing I would point to would be mental preparation. Rick Pitino said after last night's defeat that the team was coming off its worst two practices of the season following the home win over Kentucky.
How can that happen?
Even Pitino vehemently stated in his post-game presser that he didn't believe in "let downs." So in my mind, and perhaps others' as well, I am wondering how on God's green Earth could a team NOT have a couple of sound, strong practices shortly after such an uplifting, much needed win against a Top 5 in-state rival?
It appeared last night that the Cards had checked out before the first TV timeout. Virginia came out calm and calculated, scoring on four of its first five possessions. Conversely, UofL looked discombobulated and flat and labored to point points on the board. The fans were left to scratch their collective heads. Virginia looked like a team that not only believed it could win, but expected to do so. On the flip side, the Cards gave the impression of a squad that wasn't sure if it had the goods to collect the W.
That's a problem.
I know the reasons are numerous but aside from the mental approach, the other thing I would specifically point toward relates to a couple of specific skill sets, shooting and passing. I'm the furthest thing from John Wooden but clearly Virginia forces and damn near demands its opponents to make outside shots to beat them. And here again, this defensive approach is utter kryptonite to Louisville. As you scan the floor and the UofL bench, it's taxing to find guys who can shoot it really well. I get it, Ryan McMahon probably rarely misses from behind the arc in practice. Translating that to an actual game against a suffocating defense is another narrative. So who does that leave? Obviously there are guys who can make shots but most of those players have shown to be inconsistent. There just aren't any pure, dead eye shooters. Memo to the coaching staff, recruit more shooters (echoes into eternity).
In terms of passing this Louisville team, while unselfish, has not shown the ability to distribute the ball in a way that it gives them a decisive advantage. Sharing the ball effectively is a must when it comes to beating the best teams in the country and Virginia is certainly no exception. The Cavaliers, as they put on full display yet again last night, hedge on virtually every screen. They grab, they claw, they beat you down physically and take away your offensive strengths. The only way to counter that attack aside from hitting challenged jumpers is to find the open man when that small window opens. Too much one on one and low percentage off balanced shots are a recipe for disaster against UVA and Louisville was proficient in doing as such last night.
After all is said and done, losing to Virginia isn't the apocalypse. Besides, it's not as if the two teams will play every week from here on out (thank goodness). BUT, aside from another regular season matchup and the small chance that the two programs could potentially meet up in the ACC Tournament, the Cards must find a way to solve this mystery (I'm not even going to entertain the thought of playing them in the Big Dance). Why? Because there are other teams out there similar to UVA who will use their blue print to beat UofL.
The game this Saturday in Indy against IU now carries even more weight. My hope is to see a UofL team that comes out energetic and with a purpose. The Hoosiers having just lost at home to an unranked Nebraska team will certainly be looking to heal its wounds. And as tip off approaches, I'll continue to ponder two things: How did UVA's Kyle Guy not end up at Duke and will the Cards rekindle the spark we all saw against Kentucky?
Go Cards, bounce back, beat Indiana