On March 16, 2018, the Virginia Cavaliers were at an all-time low. They entered the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed with a record of 31-2. After 40 minutes of play, Virginia left the floor as the first no. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. UMBC scored 74 points against the Cavaliers’ defense and shot 12-24 from three-point range.
On April 8, 2019, the Virginia basketball program came full circle. A 20-point loss to UMBC had been erased from memories on that night. Virginia defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders 85-77 to win the National Championship. The last two college basketball seasons have seen Virginia go 66-6 overall and 33-3 in ACC play. They finally put the cherry on top with a national title. Now, the Cavaliers face the unique challenge of following up a championship season.
Moving Forward for the Virginia Cavaliers
The core of Virginia is now in the NBA. The team that won 66 games and a National Championship is now at the next level.
De’Andre Hunter was taken fourth overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. He was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Ty Jerome was the 24th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. Kyle Guy was taken in the second round by the New York Knicks but was traded to the Sacramento Kings.
Losing three key players on a team is never easy for a college program, but it is harder when it is your three best players. Guy was selected as the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Head coach Tony Bennett has turned Virginia into a legitimate program. He will have his work cut out for him during the 2019-20 season as he looks to replace his three top guys from the year before.
Season Outlook in Charlottesville
There is plenty of excitement surrounding Virginia. They have scheduled an event called “A Night with the National Champions.” This event will celebrate Virginia’s first National Title in school history. They will be presented with their rings and raise their championship banner.
Virginia opens up their season on November 6th against the Syracuse Orange. Taking the floor will be a new look Cavaliers’ team. Virginia landed just two players in ESPN’s Top 100. Casey Morsell and Kadin Shedrick both chose to join the defending champs. Morsell has a chance to start right away for Virginia.
Despite losing three proven players, there is plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Virginia will return Kihei Clark, Braxton Key, and Mamadi Diakite. All three players were part of the championship team and made significant contributions. Key finished fourth in ACC Sixth Man of the Year voting last season. He will now be expected to take on a different role as a starter.
The biggest piece returning for Virginia is clear. With Bennett as head coach, Virginia will compete. He was selected as the 2018 ACC Coach of the Year. Bennett led Virginia to their first title in school history and has turned them into a defensive powerhouse.
Virginia will come into the season as a top 10 team in the country. The Villanova Wildcats were given the same respect at the beginning of last season after cruising to a national title. They also lost many key players and proved to be ranked too high to begin the season. whether Virginia proves the same is yet to be seen. They play in the ACC which is much tougher than the Big East.
Heading into the season, many eyes will be on Virginia as they look to make yet another tournament run. Many questions will be answered in the first month of the season. If a guess had to be made, it is safe to say that Virginia will continue to compete and be one of the top teams in the nation.
Embed from Getty Images