So, I have to start this article off with candor. There’s no way this article can live up to its expectations. I set off with the goal of recapping the 2018-2019 Virginia Cavaliers’ Men’s Basketball season.
But honestly, how do you do that?
How do you put into words the single greatest season in 113 years of program history? How can the greatest redemption story ever told in any collegiate or professional sport be merely recapped in a preseason countdown series?
This time last year, our message was clear. We weren’t really ready yet for the new basketball season because, to be honest, most of us weren’t ready to hear “UMBC”—last year’s most dreadful four-letter word—be uttered at every broadcast. But if you were able to get past that, you realized that behind the team that suffered the biggest upset in all of sports was an energetic, hungry, even perhaps vengeful team whose destiny was written in the stars before the season even began.
Returning from that loss were Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter (who’s quick to remind you that he didn’t actually play against UMBC by the way), Mamadi Diakite, and Jack Salt, among others, and if you were paying enough attention, you knew that something special could happen.
The 2018-2019 campaign for the Cavaliers began with three home games that played out exactly how they were supposed to for a team ranked in the preseason as No. 5, beating Towson, George Washington, and Coppin State by a combined 105 points and scoring above 70 points each time (97 against Coppin State!).
The first test of the season came in the Battle 4 Atlantis as the Hoos cruised to the finals to face its first Power 5 school in Wisconsin. The year prior, the two teams battled to a scintillating 49-37 finish in favor of Virginia. This time, the Hoos again came out on top in another barn burner, 53-46.
Then No. 4 Virginia would immediately follow that up with a road win over No. 24 Maryland, 76-71, at College Park as part of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge. In true Terp fashion, students came out with UMBC mementos to no avail. Guy’s five three-pointers led the way for the Hoos as Virginia had four players in double-digits, including 12 big ones from big man Jack Salt.
To be honest, the rest of the non-conference schedule went off pretty unremarkably. Virginia cruised to a perfect 12-0 record, which included a 100-point performance over Marshall on New Year’s Eve. What we learned through 12 games was that Virginia was far more threatening and efficient on offense, something that many had previously criticized Tony Bennett for for failing to adjust.
Unless you get the luxury of playing Wake Forest, you really have no easy games ahead of you once the ACC schedule kicks in. No. 4 Virginia found itself starting off the conference against No. 9 Florida State, holding the Noles’ leading scorer in Terance Mann scoreless, while Kyle Guy blew it up with 21 points, including 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. The final score of 65-52 is deceiving — 18 of Florida State’s points came in the final 2:30 as the Noles pressed against Virginia’s bench.
Yada yada yada, the Hoos continued to stay perfect in impressive fashion, dispatching Boston College and Clemson along the way. The Hoos—still ranked No. 4 at this point—then welcomed the No. 9 Hokies to Charlottesville. The Hokies, by the way, were the only ACC team to have beaten UVA in the year prior, and one of only three schools at all to have come away with a win. But their luck would run out against the Hoos. Virginia dominated every aspect of that game to come away with a 81-59 win to remain one of only two undefeated teams in the country at 16-0 (17-0 Michigan was the other).
Virginia had to turn around immediately and travel to Durham to face top-ranked Duke, both teams inflated with confidence but one team with an unfair competitive advantage in the name of Zion Williamson. Despite going ice-cold from three, shooting only 17.6% beyond the arc, Virginia just barely came out with a loss, falling 72-70 and taking its first loss of the season. Despite the result, the Hoos would actually rise in the polls to No. 3 following the loss.
Following the loss to Duke, Virginia received a bye game against Wake Forest, a 68-45 win, and an easy road win over Notre Dame, 82-55.
At No. 23 NC State, the Hoos needed an overtime effort to overcome their sloppy play (16 turnovers!), barely, escaping 66-65. Guy didn’t make his first three until overtime, but he did give us this pretty sweet dunking opportunity for Jay Huff.
Virginia cruised over Miami, and ESPN’s GameDay came back into town for the fourth time in five years, this time to show case No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Virginia. Unclear what sorts of probably-banned-substance Duke was using at the time (that’s a joke, folks, don’t sue me), the Devils put together 62% shooting from outside to overcome Virginia’s already-not-too-shabby 42% three-point shooting. Virginia would be handed its second loss of the season, 81-71.
The stumbles ended there for Virginia as they cruised through the rest of the regular season to pick up ranked wins over the likes of No. 20 Virginia Tech and No. 18 Louisville. The Cardinals, by the way, were only able to score a whopping 15 points in the second half against the Hoos as Virginia pulled off another (but less dramatic) comeback at the Yum! Center.
Virginia finished the regular season with a 28-2 overall record, 16-2 in conference. They earned a share of the regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament, its fourth time in just six seasons.
Virginia advanced past NC State in the first round of the ACC Tournament (by the way, without looking it up, doesn’t it feel like Virginia always plays NC State in the first round of the ACC Tournament?). But the Hoos would stumble to Florida State in the semifinals, 69-59. I say it every year and still maintain that a loss in the ACC Tournament, unless your goal is to win the ACC Tournament, doesn’t hurt you in even the least. Stop getting beat up, take the rest time, and get ready for a touch March to come. (This assumes you’re in a position like Virginia, where you’ve won the title a few times recently, and are not vying for a particular seed in the NCAA Tournament.)
And that’s it! Just kidding, the final six games of the season are too much to throw at the end of this, so we’ll be publishing that in Part II of the season recap...stay tuned!