The unexpected happened this March Madness, as Virginia, Xavier, Michigan State, Arizona, and North Carolina all crumbled early and left the nation bewildered. Our beloved Virginia Basketball team fell on the heels of a team many people never knew existed, the University of Maryland, Baltimore-County (UMBC). The UMBC Retrievers gnawed away viciously at the number one defensive team in the nation, knocking down three-pointers at will and blowing by defenders off the dribble. It was a nightmare of a game for Virginia Basketball, as they were on the wrong side of history, becoming the first #1 seed ever to lose to a #16 seed.
Nevertheless, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett displayed humility, giving credit to UMBC’s game-preparation and tenacity to fight hard in every possession.
“I want to congratulate the job that Ryan and his staff did. They played well, and we did not,” Bennett said.
However, Bennett emphasizes the importance of not letting one game define his team and his staff. Some of the brighter moments of the team’s season, cutting down the nets at the ACC tournament and going undefeated in the ACC conference are moments to keep the spirits up. It is no easy feat to only lose one ACC conference game. He knows how hard his team has worked to get to where they were this season, putting in endless hours before and after practice to perfect their crafts.
With the season all over, the Virginia basketball community wishes the best for their graduates including Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Nigel Johnson. They have been true representatives of Bennett’s program, strictly abiding by his five pillars, which will shape these players into impactful men.
Virginia still holds a core of key players and will have extra minutes to distribute among their talented bench that has yet to be unveiled.
Virginia Basketball Team Outlook in 2019
Despite the evil spell cast onto the Virginia basketball team, they still maintain their core group of guys from this past season. Virginia returns sophomore guard Kyle Guy, recently voted to third-team AP All-American and first team All-ACC. He averaged a team-high 14.1 points per game and reached double-figures in 28 games, leading Virginia to ACC-regular season and tournament titles. His quick release in catch-and-shoot scenarios created major problems for opposing defenders. Among this was the elite ball-handling skills that allowed him to blow by defenders for easy tear-drop floaters and lay-ups. Watch below at the 0:23 second mark, as he puts Duke’s freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr on skates.
Another instrumental piece to Virginia’s success came from freshman sensation De’Andre Hunter dubbed the ACC Sixth Man of the Year. After redshirting his freshman year to hone his skills and learn Bennett’s pack-line defense, Hunter grabbed the attention of the entire country with his freakish athleticism and versatility. His length assisted tremendously in his ability to guard all four positions and give opposing guards trouble in the paint. He forced larger defenders to guard him outside the perimeter, which was a huge mismatch especially with his ability to attack off the dribble and finish in the lane. Also, he was a relentless hustler, who went for every loose ball and rebound in his vicinity, giving Virginia’s slow-paced offense extra possessions that they capitalized on.
At point guard, rising junior Ty Jerome will take the reins again, improving upon his sophomore campaign of 10.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Jerome was a proven playmaker for Virginia, hitting critical last-minute shots against Duke and Louisville. He isn’t fazed by the spotlight and will be ready to produce again for this talented Virginia squad.
Virginia fans need to be optimistic and supportive this upcoming season for a hungry Virginia team that has a lot to prove after a disheartening tournament loss.