What's it mean? How is it defined? That's a question that everyone asks every season in every sport, all season long. It's a little overplayed. But if you're going to ask, there's probably no better time than right now: on the eve of tournament play. Every game from here on out defines the season - and might end it. So we'll get an answer to the question very shortly.
Well, hopefully not too shortly. Like, uh, you know. There's a certain kind of perspective that no fans in this country have except us. We didn't ask for it and we'd give it back if we could, but we have it, so let's use it. Last season's dance was emphatically the least successful tournament that any team has ever had in the history of the thing.
But does that make the whole season a total flop? It felt that way the night of, yeah. And we were reminded of... that... every game we watched this year. Almost apologetically, in many cases. It was nice of the announcers to remember that, even though a Zion Williamson graphic festooned most broadcasts this year, their audience was actually comprised mainly of Virginia fans, and it'd be a major turnoff to be too excited about it. But something else was featured on every broadcast too: A banner. Two of them, actually, and in both cases, they were something that nobody else can lay any kind of claim to. With no sharing of the regular season title and tournaments only ever crowning one champion, UVA claimed the kingship of the country's flagship basketball conference.
So maybe none of the other 14 teams have that kind of infamia on their resume, but they were all still worse than UVA. "Still beat you, though," is surprisingly therapeutic, and in 2018, there's nobody we couldn't say that to.
Is that successful? Damn right it is. Sooner or later, and it might be 40 years from now or next week but it will happen, the list of one will become a list of two. The Detroit Lions were the only 0-16 team, until they weren't, and being the first matters a lot less than being the only. But championships never fade. Nobody will ever become the second team to win the 2018 ACC championship. That one's all ours. It's never coming down. And knowing that takes a lot the sting out of what happened next.
This season, things happened a little differently, like always. For example, this season, Maryland fans, Virginia Tech fans, and North Carolina fans all walked out of their building having just watched Virginia smack their team around. We don't like those guys and they don't like us and we took the bragging rights away right in front of them. In a past blogging life I'd have looked up the books to see if that had ever happened before; these days I'll just assume it never has. Or it's been at least, like, 18 years. Either way, thumping all your big rivals like that is special.
That's success. Tony winning the COY award again is a success (even if the objective observer in me would've voted for Buzz Williams and is not sorry about the result regardless.) That stuff is on the record books forever. It's not as satisfying as a banner, but it's just as permanent. And whatever happens in the upcoming elimination games, it's still there.
A big chunk of the season will be a disappointment, yes, if it ends sooner than it should. UVA is the likely top seed again, so the whole roster of expectations is still present. But one reason the "what makes the season a success?" question is so often trite, is that it implies a black and white line. Successful, or not. If we gained anything at all from last year, it should be the ability to compartmentalize, and apply shades of gray to the definition. Last year was both a huge success, and not a success at all. Which also makes it neither. If we're lucky, we'll gain a whole new perspective, which is the one you get when coming off a postseason that lacks any failure at all. If not, we'll probably still come to realize in time that this season still was pretty damn good.