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2018 ACC Tournament: Revenge Of The Nerds

And we mean that in the nicest way possible.

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ACC Basketball Tournament - Championship
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers exits the court after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 71-63 during the championship game of the 2018 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 10, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After years of being pushed around by most of the ACC, Virginia, under Tony Bennett, has become a monster of a program.

The Cavaliers won the ACC Tournament Saturday evening with a wonderful game against UNC.

Discretion? Virginia had four turnovers. Fundamentals? UVA hit 20-22 from the line. Defense? Theo Pinson, who was absolutely sensational in this tournament, was held to 1-10.

We can’t say enough about how good he was. He was hitting a level of (Walton warning: it’s about to get thick:) oneness with the game that many insanely talented players never hit. People talk about the game coming to you as an argument for patience but you can also talk about that as how you get into the flow too. You can get in the rhythm of baseball and, in some ways football, but basketball has far more rhythm than either of its rivals and if you can catch it then you can ride it.

Pinson rode it brilliantly. How brilliantly?

We were willing to overlook all the negatives about UNC athletics that have come up recently, if only for the span of the tournament. He was mesmerizing.

Until Virginia.

Virginia broke Pinson’s mojo.

Virginia also made life tough for Joel Berry, UNC’s other masterful guard. We’ve seen him go off enough times to understand what the guy is capable of. He’s an immensely confident clutch player.

Virginia broke his mojo.

Luke Maye has been killing people on the boards.

Virginia took that away too.

And the thing is they do this with fairly normal players (hence the nerd reference). De’Andre Hunter is a superbly talented athlete but the rest?

Kyle Guy may get some NBA looks, but he’s a 6-2 shooting guard. Nobody is planning to draft Jack Salt. Ty Jerome is a stone cold killer, a guy who keeps his cool in the clutch like nobody else we can think of in the game today.

Yet we doubt he’s a big target. Why would he be? Why would Isaiah Wilkins? Devon Hall might get some looks but he’s no sure fire NBA starter or anything.

What we admire about what Virginia has accomplished is that they’ve done it with, relatively speaking, normal players. They buy in and they stick around.

We didn’t think they could replace point guard London Perrantes this year. Instead they got an upgrade in Jerome.

After the game, two comments stood out to us. Someone asked Guy about his role and he said “my role is to win.” Bennett followed up on this when he talked to former Charlotte Hornet teammate Mike Gminski, choosing to focus on his teams “uncommon” (we think that was his word.

He’s built a unique culture at Virginia. It’s cerebral yet ferocious. It certainly appears to be highly ethical (we have to qualify that now sadly). Now that Guy no longer has a man bun, there’s not really even a villain or villainous figure anymore, not even in a clownish sense.

The best thing (for Virginia) is that this could work for years. It’s an astounding achievement.

So who could beat them in the NCAAs?

That’s been their bugaboo so far. The worst loss was the collapse against Syracuse in the Elite Eight. Virginia was up 13 with 8:43 to go and then the next 11 possessions yielded four turnovers, four missed layups, a missed trey, a missed foul shot and just one made basket.

Syracuse pressed Virginia to accomplish that incidentally, which also worked for West Virginny both last year and earlier this season as well.

Yet the ACC team you’d have expected to press them the most, Louisville when Rick Pitino coached them, never could touch Virginia.

Still, that’s interesting. It’d be fun to see if the Committee puts the Mountaineers in Virginia’s bracket. We’d be curious to see Rhode Island there as well. Danny Hurley is becoming a great coach and he can call his dad and his brother Bobby for ideas.

As brilliant as Virginia is though, to truly keep up with Duke and UNC, a Final Four is necessary. And preferably, since the neighbors down south have 11 between them, and most of them legitimate, a national title.

Speaking of Pitino, the disgraced former Louisville coach is finding it harder to control himself. He’s now referring to the board of trustees as “they board of traitors” and has made it clear that he wants to get back in the game.

Apparently Georgia is at least somewhat interested. They just fired Mark Fox, an apparently ethical guy who didn’t win enough, so they seem willing to compromise. Pitino is already compromised so maybe it’s a natural fit.

Around the country, UConn moved quickly to fire Kevin Ollie and are trying to do so with cause. It seems like a shabby way to treat a guy who came up in their own program but that’s their business (Pitt is also trying to fire Kevin Stallings for cause because he mouthed off to a fan about Louisville’s scandal, which is absolutely ludicrous).

The leading candidate there may be young Hurley, who is on everyone’s short list but who prefers the Northeast. It’s probably the best job open so far, other than perhaps Louisville, depending on what comes out of the investigation.

Memphis may open soon and while Tubby Smith is maybe a bit long in the tooth for a rebuild, he’s a skilled coach who, somewhat like Stallings at Pitt, took a good job that was a bad fit.

This year’s coaching carousel is likely to be bizarre and possibly frantic. Who knows what happens at Arizona - or when? Who has any idea what Louisville will do?

Buckle up.

Whatever happens though we’re pretty sure Bennett has a job at UVA for as long as he wants it.

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