The No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers kick off play in the ACC tournament today, putting yet another stellar regular season in the rear view mirror. Virginia’s last trip to Charlotte was a memorable one, but not for the right reasons. Now, the Hoos have a chance to exorcise some demons as they try and cement a favorable regional location for the NCAA tournament.
For head coach Tony Bennett, now is the time to write a new chapter, leaving last year’s team and results in the past and focusing on building off of Virginia’s second straight ACC regular season title.
“The last time I sat in here we were talking about our regular season conference championship and that test over two and a half months, 18 games,” Bennett said to the media on March 12. “Now you’re going into a different tournament where it’s one and done and then the same with the NCAA tournament. Just being as ready as we can and pressing on.
“I think everybody’s going to say, ‘You’re going back to Charlotte and that’s where you played and lost to UMBC.’ We’ve tried to grow as much as we can and learn from it. It’s all been talked about enough. It’s time to press on and get ready to play. There’s not a whole lot more to be said.”
The Virginia basketball team has had lofty goals for the season, to include repeating as ACC tournament champions and reaching the ever-elusive Final Four. Their resolve is evident. “You guys [the media] know what our aspirations are,” third year guard Kyle Guy stated. “It is kind of a new season. A blank slate. Everyone is playing for their seasons and their bids and rankings or seeds or whatever, so we’ve got to leave it all on the line every second of every game.”
As the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, the Hoos have had to wait for their chance to take the court in Charlotte, but the players are ready to roll. “We’re excited,” Huff said. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I think we have a good chance to win it.”
Bennett has preached “one game at a time” throughout his tenure at Virginia, and the Cavaliers have always (seemed at least) to follow his lead. That mentality will serve the Hoos well this post season as they enter back-to-back single elimination tournaments.
“Our mentality throughout the season has helped with that,” Huff said of Virginia’s ability to focus game-by-game in the regular season. “We attack it one game at a time and try not to look forward too far. I think we’re mentally prepared because of the way we prepared throughout the season.”
For first year Kihei Clark and transfer Braxton Key, this is the first ACC tournament. “I’m totally excited,” Clark said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to winning.” Key, who came to Virginia from Alabama, is familiar with tough competition but is excited for the challenge in Charlotte. “I’m excited. It’s going to be fun. Tournaments are always fun. All the festivities and stuff, the fans, the team...it’s an exciting time.”
Virginia kicks off their run in the ACC tournament on Thursday against NC State at 12:30.