Female readers would probably tell me it’s because of Tony Bennett’s youthful good looks, but I still find it hard to believe he’s in his seventh year at UVA. So imagine my surprise yesterday when I discovered that Bennett is about to pass former Cavalier coach Jeff Jones in wins at Virginia.
Jones coached Virginia from 1990-1998, which is around the time I discovered college basketball as a kid. He’s the second-winningest Virginia coach in the ACC era, behind only Terry Holland. Jones played for Holland and was later an assistant coach on his staff. He took UVA to a Final Four in 1981 as a player and in 1984 as an assistant. And he took Virginia to an Elite Eight in 1995 as the big whistle.
Jones finished his UVA coaching career with 146 wins. Bennett currently sits at 146 as well. He can overtake Jones with a win this week against Oakland or Notre Dame. Both of those games are at home, but neither will be easy.
Oakland almost topped Michigan State last week in a game that ESPN kept interrupting the UVA-Cal game to show. Point guard Kay Felder leads the Golden Grizzly attack. According to David Teel, Felder leads the nation in assists and ranks third in scoring, all despite standing a mere 5’9". Oakland could be a fashionable pick to pull an early NCAA tournament upset if it wins its conference.
Notre Dame is 4th nationally in offensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. The Fighting Irish are 8-3 and sport wins over Iowa and Illinois. Their three losses have been by a combined 10 points. And though it’s early, they look to be on track to make the NCAA tournament yet again.
Whenever Bennett’s next win comes, it will give another example of how his tenure has re-written the book on Virginia basketball history. For many, the Jeff Jones tenure was the last link to the "glory days" Virginia experienced under Holland. And the Wahoo basketball program looked lost in the wilderness until Bennett came to town. Indeed, Virginia didn’t return to the Sweet Sixteen after 1995 until Bennett’s 2014 team.
Bennett should get to 147 this week. Holland sits at 326. Here's hoping Bennett stays in Charlottesville long enough to make a run Virginia's all-time win record.