No one wearing the orange and blue of the Virginia Cavaliers ever wants to lose to the Maryland Terrapins in anything. The schools have a spirited rivalry in many sports, from football and basketball to sports like lacrosse. On Sunday afternoon, the Virginia-Maryland rivalry was turned up a notch when the Cavaliers went to College Park to try and play the foil in Maryland’s final ACC regular-season game ever. Maryland joins the Big 10 for next season.
While losing to Maryland, 75-69 in overtime, will sting for a while, if Virginia was going to drop a game in the near future, this was the one to lose. The Cavaliers now have until Friday to prepare for their first game in the ACC tournament, a quarterfinal against either the eighth or ninth seed. That seed will be one of Florida State, Maryland or North Carolina State. Virginia hasn’t won the ACC tournament since 1976 (that was the only time), and there will be a lot of pressure on the Cavaliers to prove their worth in Greensboro, N.C., after a season where their success has been met with cynical (and sometimes uneducated) commentary from so-called experts about the ACC’s unbalanced schedule.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett has a lot of teaching points to review with his team after Sunday’s loss. On the defensive end, where Virginia has been the best scoring defense club in the country, the Cavaliers gave away far too many easy opportunities close to the basket. Many came on drives by Seth Allen and Dez Wells. Other times, UVA left the baseline open for easy shots. That was far from the normal standard of Cavaliers defense and something that must be corrected, especially if Virginia and Maryland meet again on Friday. Virginia either failed to stop the drives, or committed fouls trying to do so.
Offensively, the Cavaliers got to the paint, but their decision-making once there was questionable. London Perrantes, Malcolm Brogdon and especially Joe Harris, passed up shots within five feet of the basket to pass the ball 15 feet from the basket. Virginia was much more effective offensively when the passes came early in those drives, just after Maryland’s defense collapsed inside, setting up open looks outside. Virginia (25-6, 16-2 ACC) was also woeful at the basket once fouled, missing a handful shots in the second half that could have led to three-point play chances. Those misses are vital since Virginia isn’t a good free-throw shooting team (it shot 70 percent today).
It wouldn’t be wise to chalk up Maryland’s win simply to the emotion of its final home game and it being a big rivalry matchup. Certainly that factored, but Maryland (17-14, 9-9) was the better team today and for much of the second half, Wells and Allen were the best players. Bennett never wanted to lose this game — part of his popularity in Charlottesville was the fact his teams had beaten Maryland six times in a row entering Sunday’s game. But the loss will give him a valuable situation to regroup his team and get Virginia back to basics. Harris especially at times looked out of sorts Sunday, and a chance to rest and re-focus a bit should be helpful. Such chances wouldn’t exist after an early NCAA tournament loss. And losing the winning streak early in the ACC tournament would have been all the more frustrating, even more than losing to a rival. Bennett and his team have their challenge now, and the postseason results will determine how successfully they handle it.