Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers might be the most consistently beatable powerhouse in college basketball history.
In Bennett’s 12 years at the helm, the program has a nearly .750 winning percentage and a national title in 2019. Yet, after another stunning upset loss in the tourney, this time to 13 seed Ohio in the round of 64 on Saturday, it begs the question, just how formidable are the Cavaliers?
Excluding the championship season, the Cavaliers have never made it to a final four under Bennett when given a five seed or better. Everyone remembers the historic loss to UMBC in 2018, but Virginia folding in the big dance goes far deeper than that one game.
The problem is with Virginia is that what makes them so good in the regular season usually becomes their kryptonite in a one-and-done tournament scenario. The team is praised for their fundamentally sound pack-line defense and patient offense that is supposed to produce good shots every trip. However, that style of play results in a very slow pace and limits the number of possessions they have during the game, which thus limits their shot attempts and limits their points.
This puts an enormous amount of pressure on not only Virginia’s offense but also on their stout defense to get stops. The pressure becomes enhanced when you realize that Virginia doesn’t play an aggressive defense that forces a lot of turnovers, which means they can rarely create fastbreak opportunities for themselves that lead to easy baskets.
Everything that Virginia does to win a basketball game is a struggle. This is why we always see the Cavaliers in closely-contested games with teams that supposedly aren’t as good as them.
This season Virginia was ranked 53rd in the nation in scoring margin. They only outscored their opponents by about 8 points per game. This would be fine if they showed the ability to score in the high 70s every night. But when you only score 68 points a game, it only takes a few contested threes to go in and you’re going home in the first round. In a basketball era that’s getting more and more skilled on the perimeter, simply sitting back and waiting for a team to miss or make a mistake won’t be good enough anymore.
Virginia’s style of play is not conducive to consistent winning in March. Their margin for error is far too low in a tourney that has proven it only takes one shot or one play to completely alter a bracket.
If Bennett wants to add multiple championships to his resume he needs to change up his philosophy and let his Virginia teams become more aggressive on both ends of the court.