We know you’re tired of hearing about this, but we’re really just bracing you for the upcoming season. Seven months on, the Virginia Cavaliers’ stunning loss to the UMBC Retrievers in the first round of the NCAA tournament is still difficult to fully comprehend.
Even if the game was a more extreme example of UVA’s inability to make deep postseason runs, one has to wonder what the implications of that loss are in the short- and long-term. From the standpoints of recruiting and the media, we already know a decent amount. Competitively? That will be answered this season.
As of right now, “the shocker of all shockers,” as Jim Nantz called it, appears to have had little impact on the recruiting trail. Weeks after the game, the Hoos landed Casey Morsell out of Washington’s St. John’s College High School and the powerhouse Washington Catholic Athletic Conference for their 2019 class. In August, 2021 guard Carson McCorkle, expected to be a five-star recruit, announced his intent to play for the Cavaliers, rebuffing offers from Florida and NC State among others. On the surface, Bennett’s otherwise superb record of building and maintaining the standard for his program and his elite level of talent development are winning the day.
We’ve certainly fed into the narrative here at STL, and not that you need me to tell you this, but I’d guess that the UMBC game will be mentioned at least once a half by TV announcers this year. This year, that’s just what the narrative will be — can UVA gather itself to rise above a loss that will be remembered forever and finally get to a Final Four with a team loaded at every position? The season opens against Towson, another school from Baltimore County. And of course the ACC/Big 10 Challenge pairs the Cavaliers against old nemesis Maryland; if you don’t think Terrapins fans will bring out their best signs and chants for the revival of this classic rivalry, I don’t know what to tell you. As March approaches and arrives, mentions of the loss will only get more frequent. The plus side to all this? If Virginia gets to Minneapolis or wins it all, that talking point will forever switch to what happened a year after UMBC. Maybe there’ll even be a 30 for 30 on it.
UVA guard Kyle Guy changed his Twitter picture to him standing at midcourt with his hands on his knees in the immediate aftermath of the Retrievers finishing off the upset. That should give you a solid idea of how the Hoos are approaching this season.
On paper, this could very well be the best team of the Tony Bennett era. Guy and Ty Jerome comprise the best back court in the country, De’Andre Hunter projects as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft, and a front court of Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt (plus Braxton Key if his NCAA waiver gets approved) cap off a starting lineup that should put the fear of God into every UVA opponent. Toward the back end, a bench rotation of Marco Anthony, maybe Key, Jay Huff, and Francesco Badocchi makes for a talented, if inexperienced, reserve unit.
When it comes to what happens on the hardwood this winter and spring, however, the question of whether five years of NCAA tournament shortcomings — especially their most recent one — were ultimately one big fluke won’t gain complete clarity until they respond to this part of their story in full.