With the decade coming to a close later tonight, it’s time to look back at what has been arguably the greatest decade in Virginia basketball history. Four Regular Season ACC Titles, two ACC Tournament Championships, three Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights, one Final Four, and the program’s first National Championship are the results of just the first ten years of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville. While the future holds a bevy of promise, let’s take a moment to remember the decade that was and the wins and losses that made it so memorable.
Michigan (2012-2013): Virginia 70 – Michigan 58
Tony Bennett’s first signature win at Virginia came at the expense of the Michigan Wolverines as Virginia beat the #14 team in the country by twelve points. Mike Scott and Joe Harris came up big with eighteen points apiece, and first year Malcolm Brogdon surprised with sixteen off the bench.
For the first time in a long time, there was a sense of hope surrounding the men’s basketball program at Virginia. Despite a whole host of injuries, this team would finish fourth in the ACC and qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time under Bennett. Mike Scott carried that team, and his departure left behind sentiments of missed opportunity that team’s potential never had the opportunity to be realized due to the ridiculous number of injuries the team . Nonetheless, it finally felt like the program was getting somewhere.
Florida (2011-2012): Florida 71 – Virginia 45
I hate to do this, but I can’t help but view this loss to Florida back in 2012 as similar to the two most recent results for the Virginia football team. It was Bennett’s third year. This is Mendenhall’s third season. The basketball team was led by an upperclassmen stud in Mike Scott, as was this year’s football team in Bryce Perkins. Bennett made the tournament in 2012, a big milestone to check off a list for a struggling program. Mendenhall and Co. beat Virginia Tech, a more extreme but similar accomplishment. Both teams were ravaged by the injury bug, leaving them shorthanded in critical areas.
Take a second and imagine telling yourself when Bronco Mendenhall was hired, that within three years he would win the Coastal, beat Tech, shut an SEC team out in a bowl game, and then lose in a one possession game to the #9 team in the country in the Orange Bowl. I’ve gotten off topic, but last night’s result and the team itself deserves the benefit of context, as the path the football program is on is eerily similar to the meteoric rise of the basketball program.
Back to basketball though, the Florida loss was a stinker, and it was a cue that the program still had a way to go before they’d be able to take the tournament on in earnest. Fortunately, that progression came sooner than expected.
Duke (2012-2013): Virginia 73 – Duke 68
A season where the team was once again held back due to injuries, and was more focused upon building towards future success, was reinvigorated following this program defining win. Before this point, Bennett and Virginia had yet to truly announce themselves as a threat in ACC play, but boy did this do the trick. This wasn’t a depleted or down year for Duke either. No, this was the #3 team in the country that would go on to the Elite Eight later that season, only getting knocked out by the eventual champions, Louisville.
This was, if anything, the best game of Joe Harris’ inspiring career as a Wahoo. His thirty-six points led Virginia that night as he went off, shooting 12-20 from the field, 2-5 from three, and 10-12 from the free throw line. Perhaps overshadowed by Harris’ herculean performance was Akil Mitchell’s nineteen points and twelve rebounds.
While Virginia’s big push in the ACC wouldn’t come until a year later, this win was a hint at the type of play UVA fans have come to expect.
Tennessee (2013-2014): Tennessee 87 – Virginia 52
This was the loss that supposedly led to the rebirth of Virginia Basketball. While I don’t quite buy the premise that losing this game was the punch in the mouth this program and that talented team needed, it certainly gave birth to a new sense of urgency. Joe Harris’ meeting with Tony Bennett at the Bennett house on New Year’s Eve is well documented, as is the fact that following this harrowing loss Virginia won twenty-one of their final twenty-four games. What was a result of that loss was a shift in play, as Joe Harris took a small step back on offense, and the ball was placed in the hands of London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon more frequently.
Since that night in December, Virginia has an overall record of 179-24. The talent of the roster and genius of the coaching staff are what has made this turnaround so successful, but we can’t deny that something changed in Charlottesville following what was such an embarrassing defeat.
Syracuse (2013-2014): Virginia 75 – Syracuse 56
The win that clinched Virginia’s first share of the ACC Regular Season Title since 2007, and their first outright title since 1981, came only two months later. The atmosphere of JPJ that day was raucous, and the Virginia performance lived up to the hype. What turned into a nineteen-point win was capped off by a Thomas Rogers three-pointer that blew the roof off JPJ.
Offensive rebounding and timely three-point shooting from the ‘Hoos proved the patented Syracuse zone ineffective as Virginia corralled thirteen offensive rebounds and shot 8-16 from deep. Malcolm Brogdon’s nineteen points and five assists, coupled with London Perrantes’ distributing of seven assists, kept the Syracuse defenders honest. The result was a statement win against the then #4 team in the country.
This win was a culmination of a phenomenal season, all turned around for conference play. The 2013-2014 season signified the Virginia program’s ascendance to the elite ranks of college basketball, and beating Syracuse checked off the first major accomplishment in the team’s rise from the ashes.
Duke (2013-2014): Virginia 72 – Duke 63
Virginia’s first ACC Tournament Championship since the bicentennial was as sweet as it could be. Coming against the conference’s flag bearer in Duke, in the Blue Devils’ home state made the victory about as picture perfect as Virginia fans could’ve hoped for.
Malcolm Brogdon scored twenty-three against the Blue Devils, and Joe Harris added fifteen to lead the ‘Hoos on offense. Defensively, Akil Mitchell put in the defensive performance of a lifetime against Duke star freshman Jabari Parker. Mitchell’s relentless attention forced Parker to settle time and time again. While Parker would score twenty-three points, he shot an ugly 9-24 from the field, good for just 37.5%.
While they’d played well throughout ACC play, this win announced that Virginia had arrived. Nobody could question their talent, nor their resume, so it was time to test their chops on the biggest stage.
Michigan State (2013-2014): Michigan State 61 – Virginia 59
The game that conceived all the misinformed “Virginia can’t win in March” takes that we had to endure for the better part of five years, was not a picnic. It became clear that while this was a veteran team, tournament experience is second to none, for the players, and the coaching staff.
Now, this was quite the unlucky draw for the ‘Hoos, as Michigan State was certainly more talented than their four seed suggested. But, the Virginia players didn’t live up to their seed in this matchup. Brogdon shot 4-14, as the team as a whole shot a combined 35.1% from the field. Like we see in the numerous early exits in tournament play, Virginia’s opponent got hot and the Wahoos couldn’t match it. Branden Dawson’s twenty-four points led the charge against the Cavaliers, who had no answer late.
While this was a disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic season, the stage had been set for the future of this program.
Michigan State (2014-2015): Michigan State 60 – Virginia 54
An extremely talented team and an unprecedented 19-0 start was tarnished by injuries that left the team unorganized and scrambling to recapture the magic of the first two thirds of the season. It all came to a screeching halt against Michigan State in the Round of 32.
Once again, Virginia went cold, shooting an atrocious 29.8% from the field, while Michigan State got it going from deep, shooting 50% from long range. Travis Trice in particular scored twenty-three points on 4-8 shooting from behind the three-point line. Somehow, the Wahoos kept this close enough to keep everyone watching until the bitter end.
Much was said following this loss, and many pondered when, if ever, Virginia would find tournament success with Bennett’s system. Despite the early departure of Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins’ graduation, the return of Malcolm Brogdon and a number of other upperclassmen provided the backbone for what would be another veteran led team.
Iowa State (2015-2016): Virginia 84 – Iowa State 71
The performances of Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Isaiah Wilkins led the ‘Hoos offensively in Virginia’s next second weekend appearance, as the three combined for fifty-three of the team’s eighty-four points. Fifth year leader Malcolm Brogdon was steady as always, scoring twelve points himself, but also making life difficult for Iowa State star forward Georges Niang in the second half. Perhaps the most impressive performance from this contest though came late, as Virginia consistently broke the Iowa State press for easy finishes at the rim.
Before Virginia truly broke through in 2019, the 2016 NCAA Tournament was a big step in the right direction for the ‘Hoos, making the Elite Eight for the first time under Tony Bennett. Following back to back years preemptively ended by losses to Michigan State, reaching the Elite Eight was a breath of fresh air. This win provided that taste of legitimate tournament success that would be built upon in coming seasons.
Syracuse (2015-2016): Syracuse 69 – Virginia 62
Likely the second most heartbreaking loss in recent memory, the substantive half time lead the ‘Hoos choked away left a sour taste in the mouth. While reaching the Elite Eight was a big step for Bennett and the program, the Final Four that slipped away still eats at the hearts of the diehards. Especially considering that Virginia had already beaten three of the four teams in the Final Four, including both teams in the championship game, there were numerous what ifs spiraling in the minds of UVA faithful.
What was even worse was that this was the ultimate appearance for program stalwarts Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Evan Noelte. Nonetheless, the team rebuilt, and Bennett took his previous failures and hung himself a banner.
Villanova (2016-2017): Villanova 61 – Virginia 59
This was the Ty Jerome breakout game. In twenty-four minutes, he finished with fifteen points, including three deep three-pointers in the first half, two of which were a solid foot outside the NBA three-point line drawn in the Wells Fargo Center. In the second half, he showed flashes of what he would be for Virginia down the line: One clutch dude.
Jerome scored six points in the final 4:20 of play, including a basket with 15.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 59. Of course, Donte DiVincenzo would convert the last-second tip in score to take the win. But, Jerome’s big-time play in an NBA arena against the best team in the country was an eye-opening result. With Shayok, Perrantes, and Hall all on the court, the fact that Jerome was the guy with the ball in his hands was indicative of future successes.
Miami (2016-2017): Miami 54 – Virginia 48
This is likely the game on this list with the least significant short-term consequences. It was a February, home matchup coming off of a three-game losing streak for the Wahoos. Malcolm Brogdon was in town for his number retirement, and the environment in JPJ was spectacular.
While the ‘Hoos would drop the game in gut wrenching fashion in overtime, this contest signified a changing of the guard(s) for Virginia Basketball. This would be the last regular season game in which both Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok, previously rotational stalwarts, would each play twenty minutes. They would soon be replaced by the offensive firepower of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, who wouldn’t slip under forty combined minutes in a game for the remainder of their illustrious careers. Thompson and Shayok saw the writing on the wall, and would soon transfer out of Charlottesville to chase greater individual success. This was a critical step in the development of this duo and the rise of the next core for the Virginia program.
UNC (2016-2017): Virginia 53 – North Carolina 43
An often-forgotten victory, just nine days after being embarrassed on the road in a twenty-four-point loss, the Wahoos faced the same opponent, but on different terms. This was truly the point at which the torch was passed on to that next core.
Thompson, Reuter, and Shayok played a combined twenty-one minutes in the win, compared to sixty-five for the youngsters Diakite, Jerome, and Guy. In fact, Guy’s seventeen points on five three-pointers led the Cavaliers offensively. Of course, London Perrantes came up big with thirteen points and four assists, but from a broader perspective, it was apparent who and what this program would be moving forward.
Florida (2016-2017): Florida 65 – Virginia 39
A pummeling similar to the loss five years earlier, this concluded the transition year where we said goodbye to the longstanding point guard London Perrantes, along with Shayok, Thompson, and Reuter who would all transfer out. As Bennett tells the story, this is where he singled out Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and had a conversation with them late in the game, emphasizing to them that they’d be back and that it’d be different next time.
While losing so badly was a disappointing way to send Perrantes off, it was a necessary result to bring about the next phase of the program, a chapter that would bring with it the lowest lows, and the highest highs the program has ever experienced.
Duke (2017-2018): Virginia 65 – Duke 63
Virginia’s first win in Cameron Indoor (cough Grayson cough Allen cough traveled cough) in twenty-three years was a nail biter of a win that was mind bogglingly beautiful. I mean Ty Jerome? How about the guts to pump fake to the freaking Cameron Crazies, and to then pull up for a deep three with thirty-nine seconds left? It’s a play that will go down in Virginia lore as one of the gutsiest plays made in a Virginia uniform.
The Cavaliers boasted four players in double figures that game, as Kyle Guy led the way with seventeen, Devon Hall chipped in fourteen, Jerome came up clutch with thirteen, and despite leaving the game early due to injury, Hunter scored twelve. The outlasting of Marvin Bagley and Duke was an impressive result for a team that was still looking for a signature win. Safe to say, they found what they were looking for.
While this season would end on a sour note, this was another game that hinted at what was to come. The soon to be “big three” performing as they did, on the road, in the toughest environment in the country, as underclassmen, was nothing short of heroic.
UNC (2017-2018): Virginia 71 – UNC 63
An accomplishment greatly overshadowed by the loss that succeeded it, this was a great win, as despite the success over the four year stretch since the team came onto the national scene, they’d yet to recapture the ACC Tournament Championship since that first season in 2014.
Despite an injured hand, Deandre Hunter would come up big at the free throw line where he shot 8-10 and iced the game for the Wahoos. Per usual, the backcourt of Jerome, Guy, and Hall would carry the team to the win, scoring a combined forty-three points. While the team shot poorly from two-point range at 36.4% (12-33), their 9-17 shooting from three made up for it. A mere four turnovers for the Cavs characterized how classically Bennett this team was.
And then it happened.
UMBC (2017-2018): UMBC 74 – Virginia 54
The loss of all losses, this was the first act in what may be the greatest story in sports. You don’t need me to tell you what happened. Hunter got hurt. UMBC got hot. Virginia went cold.
The ‘Hoos were blindsided and by the time they realized what had happened, it was too late. They could never scrape their way back into a game that has gone down in history.
But this was the fuel that burned the fire for the returners. Nobody forgot, and nobody was going to let them. They lived with it for a year, and held their heads high. Despite the disappointment, the death threats, and the doubt, we were all witnesses of the ultimate redemption story.
Duke (2018-2019): Duke 72 – 70
As frustrating as this loss to the Blue Devils was, we got a glimpse of how and why this team was different from the years prior. While Duke’s superior physicality allowed them to bully Virginia with dribble drives, something few if any teams have done successfully against the pack line, UVA stuck with Duke. Had Virginia shot even close to their average from deep, this would’ve been another high-quality win for the future National Champions.
Tony Bennett’s willingness to alter and adopt relatively new offensive schemes for his team was an indication of the flexibility of that team. It implied that they could compete against any defense thrown at them. In fact, the experience of facing Duke’s switching defense came into play against Texas Tech in the National Championship when Bennett employed a triangle offense he debuted in Cameron.
Purdue (2018-2019): Virginia 80 – Purdue 75
Arguably one of the greatest college basketball games of all time, Virginia found a way to withstand Carsen Edwards’ flame throwing performance to tear victory from the grasps of defeat.
I could go on for days on the individual performances and heroics displayed in this thrilling matchup, but at the end of the day, plays were made and that’s all that matters. While we can say that this team may have been more talented or used a better scheme, at the end of the day what differentiated this team and this season from those in years past was the clutch play. Against Michigan State and Syracuse, the Cavaliers were found lacking when it mattered most. Not this team, not these guys. Time and time against, the 2018-2019 team proved what they were made of and came up clutch when the stakes were highest.
Finally, Tony Bennett and his team broke through the barrier and captured the Final Four berth that seemed to be alluding him for so long.
Auburn (2018-2019): Virginia 63 – Auburn 62
Another potential heart attack inducing contest, this team played their best ball when it mattered most. Despite giving up a late lead and having to play with their backs against the wall, the Wahoos once again found a way to get the job done. Kyle Guy must hook himself up to an ice water IV every night, because his six points in the final 7.4 seconds of play were unlike anything college basketball has seen before.
To this day, it’s difficult to believe UVA came out of that game with a victory.
Texas Tech (2018-2019): Virginia 85 – Teas Tech 78
The pinnacle of 114 seasons of Virginia basketball, this was the big one. With everything a championship game could ask for, two, star, next level players, potent offenses, countered by stifling defenses, final minute heroics, and over time to cap it all off, this one was earned. For the team yes, but also everyone watching.
We’ll all remember Deandre Hunter’s clutch as can be three-pointer to tie the game, and again when he canned a deep one to put the ‘Hoos up for good in overtime. The jubilee that swept over UVA faithful when Braxton Key flushed the ball through the hoop, and the roar Hunter let out as he hurled the ball into the air as the final buzzer sounded will be what we all remember from this decade of UVA basketball.
I don’t know if the accomplishments, the triumphs, and the ups and the downs of this last decade can be topped, but why not find out?