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Staff Roundtable: Was 2019-20 a success for Virginia basketball?

Now that the season is over, we can look back and reflect.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we should be watching and/or talking about Virginia’s NCAA tournament game. With the NCAA tournament (and practically all sports) being canceled as a result of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the season came to an abrupt and early end.

With the 2019-20 basketball season behind us, we asked the staff to look back on the season.

The season ended unexpectedly, but would you call 2019-20 a success for Virginia Basketball? Who was your season MVP?

Pierce: It was definitely a success - until the abrupt ending, of course. We can’t use ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament results as any metric so, based on what we were expecting before the season and really at any point during the season, I don’t know how this couldn’t be a success. The team finished second in the ACC during a year where they had to replace three star players (not to mention other transfer attrition)! They finished with a winning record against top 10 teams, won 11 of their final 12 games, and swept the Hokies, UNC, and Duke. What more could you ask for? Personnel-wise, they saw Kihei Clark rebound from the immense pressures the roster upheaval put on him to become the new crunch-time shot maker.

The found (some) consistency at the 2-guard position when Woldetensae found his shot in ACC play. They saw a late season emergence from Jay Huff take the basketball world by storm when he dunked all over Duke (and most other conference opponents). The departing starters in Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key both followed up their championship campaign by settling into the go-to roles needed of them in their final seasons in Charlottesville. You could arguably give the MVP to any of those guys — which speaks to the amazing team-focused team that this squad became this season: without Kihei, Tomas, Jay, Mamadi, or Braxton, none of the success they had this year happens — but if I have to pick one MVP, it’ll be Diakite. He’s the sentimental pick, of course, but also the team’s leading scorer, best defender, emotional leader, and has the best hair.

Will: I think we would have to call it a success. Like Pierce said, we don’t have a final win or loss to reflect on, but given how the season started, bottomed out in early January, and ended on such a high note, it has to be a success. I was rather vocal in early January with my disappointment with how the team was playing. Every week when publishing the NET Report, I tried to play out the rest of the regular season to see, in my estimation, what the team had to do to get an at-large bid for the tournament. At some point, I predicted 12-8 with a somewhat fluke win over FSU, Duke, or Louisville and they would have a shot, but I thought there was no chance they were getting to 12-8. They did and then some, so the season is a success in my mind.

Can Bennett be the MVP? Honestly, I don’t think anyone on the court out-shone (shined? shoned?) the rest of the team. Woldo had his flashes against UNC and on the road at Louisville, The JV middle school point guard had some good games, Mamadi hit some big shots, Braxton Key had solid games to go with missed breakaway layups and air-balled FTs (RIP), and Jay Huff showed the world why one day he might be, could be, probably will be a lottery pick towards the end of the season (2nd half vs Miami not withstanding). All that said, getting this team to where they finished is why Bennett gets the MVP. Call it a cop-out, whatever. I didn’t get an ACC or NCAA Tournament. Leave my feelings alone.

Tiki: How could it be anything other than a success? They finished the season in the top 20 after losing three of the great players ever to wear a Virginia uniform. In January, after losing 4-of-5, they were left for dead. They lost once more. Total. Finished second in the ACC. Only when compared against the last few years could that be disappointing.

Clark is MVP and it isn’t close. He was the only PG on the team. He hit big shots, most notably against VT and Louisville. He hardly came off the court, had one of the highest assist rates in the country and for about half the season he was the only guy on the team who was capable of knocking down an outside shot. Without Clark, this team doesn’t win 10 games, much less 20.

Bennett is a good answer though because that was a masterful coaching job, particularly during the second half of the ACC season. That 52-50 win over Duke goes down in history.

Sayer: 100% a success. From what this team lost to where they sat after the loss to NC State (12-6, 4-4 ACC), UVA’s run to end 2019-20 defied all expectations. Of course, it was nerve-wracking as ever — second to only last season’s NCAA Tournament run — but a true joy to watch all the same. I agree, Tiki, Kihei has to be the MVP. His growth from the opener to Mar. 7th’s win over Louisville was staggering. Towards the end of the conference schedule, the offense was more or less dependent on the “veteran sophomore,” and I trusted him more than anyone else (yes, even Mamadi) to make a play when it was needed.

Ryan: Success, no questions asked. At the beginning of the year, I felt the baseline was the 2017 team given what both teams lost and his team exceeded that benchmark by two games. It could be revisionist history (given how that team got run out of the gym by Florida), but I also feel this team was much better positioned than that team to make a run in March. The main reason I feel that way? This team wasn’t very good. Don’t get me wrong, they were very good, they had to be to go 23-7. What I mean is they never put together a complete effort. There was always something missing, yet they were never out of a game. Two more threes here, two less turnovers there and this team 26-4 and among the top teams in the country. Obviously I know how that could have gone the other way, but come the tournament if they got a marginally better offensive performance each night (not asking a lot considering how bad they were at times), it’s not crazy to think they could have made it to Atlanta.Speaking of the 2017 team.

This team’s MVP is by far Kihei Clark. As a sophomore he was asked to do what London Perrantes was asked to do as a senior and did it just as well, if not better. Obviously, he didn’t score like Perrantes did, but his turnover rate was much higher. Where Clark really stood out was on the defensive end. The last two seasons, he’s given the Virginia defense a lockdown perimeter presence who all but eliminates quick guards from breaking down the pack-line. It’s the final piece of Bennett’s defense and regardless of how good the guys are coming in next season and beyond, Clark undeniably left his mark on this team and will be a fixture in the Virginia backcourt the next two years.

What is your take? Leave a comment below!