Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Remember when Virginia played Duke to a one-possession game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in mid-January, then followed that up with a 32-point road win at Georgia Tech and was ranked No. 15 in the succeeding AP Poll? That Cavaliers team looks completely different from the one that scored just 48 points in a 12-point loss on Tuesday night at Clemson to fall to 6-5 in the ACC. What once looked like a surging team with top four NCAA seed potential has turned into a squad in a bit of a free fall. UVA has not only lost starting center Assane Sene to injury, but also three of its last four games and four of their last eight overall to drop to sixth place in the ACC. Virginia needs to turn things around if they want to make the Big Dance with a chance to win in the postseason. They’ll have that opportunity with both North Carolina and Florida State coming into John Paul Jones Arena in the next two weeks.
Back on January 16, the then-No. 15 Cavaliers were not only on a nice winning streak but also had developed a strong identity as a slow-paced, defensive team that was difficult to execute against. Their average game includes 60.5 possessions, one of the 20 slowest tempos in the nation. Led by fifth-year senior Mike Scott, who has developed into one of the best all-around forwards in the country, Virginia had the goods to beat opponents in a grind-it-out style that came down to whose offense could be most efficient in the half court. At 15-2, the results showed that they were making it work. However, the downside to that style of play given the tempo is always the potential to allow teams to hang in a game. And when you’re not executing well enough on your own end of the court, then the style can turn ugly in a hurry. That is exactly what has happened to Virginia.