We all have to admit it. Tony Bennett has spoiled all of the Virginia basketball fans out there and it was capped off last April with the Cavaliers’ first ever national title.
So where do we go from here?
Two things can happen in my opinion. The ‘Hoos could take a huge step back this season or, the sustained success could continue in the most Tony Bennett way possible. Virginia is now in unfamiliar territory being the defending national champions and that will not be easy. If they didn’t have a target on their back in recent years, they sure as hell do now and that will be on display come November 6thwhen they travel to open ACC play at Syracuse.
Yes, they open conference play on November 6that Syracuse. For the first time, the ACC has adopted a 20-game slate which will required every team to play two conference games before the New Year, something that has never happened before. Right out of the gate we will get a glimpse of the new-look Cavaliers after losing three draft picks and a key cog in Jack Salt from last year’s squad. It is still uncertain what the starting lineup will be when they take the floor in the Carrier Dome, but we do know it will be interesting. The 11th-ranked team in the country will likely trot out an undersized point guard that some analysts have said isn’t an ACC-caliber player, either a sophomore who played in 18 games and totaled 30 points or a true freshman that will begin his college career playing in front of over 30k people, a gritty senior that has struggled scoring the basketball while at Virginia, another senior that dabbled in the process of going to the NBA but made a wise decision to come back, and an athletic freak that has found himself buried on Bennett’s bench in the past because of his questionable defense….. and that is just the projected starting five.
So what are realistic expectations?
That’s a tough one. Bennett has proven he can do more with less than maybe any coach in basketball history but this may be his toughest chapter yet. He has won 100 of the 126 ACC games his teams have played since the conference went to the 18-game schedule, and now has another opportunity to continue to add to that total. With a question of who will take the big shot, or who will score the basketball when needed, there is a scenario where this year’s version of Virginia basketball could lose 6-8 ACC games or we could see them with an 18-2 record because of what the defense can do to opposing teams. I think an opening night test against a good Syracuse team will be an evaluator, but in no way a sign of how the season will go. Be patient with this year’s team and be sure to always glance up at the national championship banner in the rafters at JPJ every time you’re in there to remind you of how far this program has come just in the last decade.