As the Virginia Cavaliers have just six games remaining in their season, we’ve decided it’s worth addressing what it will take from Tony Bennett and company for this season to be labeled as a successful one. So, fellas, with 23 games in the books and UVA tied for first in the ACC, what needs to happen over the next two months for you to consider this basketball season a success?
Virginia is the best team in the ACC and a top-ten team in the country. Anything less than winning the ACC regular-season title and making it to the Sweet Sixteen would be a disappointment. There’s no reason for the ’Hoos to go any worse than 5-1 over their final six ACC games, and they’ll be favored in every game they play in the ACC tournament. In the NCAA tournament, making the second weekend is the absolute floor for a successful season. Three of Virginia’s key players — Kihei Clark, Ben Vander Plas, and Jayden Gardner — are guaranteed to be gone next year. This is the one shot this grouping will have at a deep tournament run, and if they can’t even make it to the round of 16 it’ll go down as a “what could have been” season like 2020-21.
The floor for success would be winning the ACC regular season title. The soccer fan in me would be especially thrilled if we did the double, that is, sweeping both the regular season and tourney titles much as we did in 2013-14 and 2017-18. In other words, it has been 5 years since we were undisputed ACC champions. But this team has all the markings of a first-weekend flame out in the NCAAs. I’m not expecting to make it to the Sweet 16, so if we do advance that far, or further, it would be, well, sweet....
ACC titles are wonderful and for sure so are ACC tournament titles, but I would need to see a Sweet Sixteen in addition to either of those for this to be a successful season. I think the Hoos will win the ACC regular season, but if that doesn’t happen and they still make a Sweet Sixteen (or better) performance in the NCAAT? That’ll be a success. This program just doesn’t need to deal with another early exit in March.
I reluctantly agree with Pierce — I do not view the ACC regular season or tournament titles as a benchmark for success, not for this program at this level. They are lovely for the rafters, but for this season to be a success, I’d need to see an Elite Eight appearance. (Before everyone jumps on me, I want to remind them that I’m one of the olds on this site and I remember vividly the dark days of the nineties and early 2000s!) Anything short of the Sweet Sixteen is a disappointment, and a Sweet Sixteen exit would just be a fine season to me. Not a disappointment, but not a success.
It is so weird to me, even after following this sport for 45 years or so, that people find a Sweet 16 or an Elite 8 finish to be a success. Winning is always better than losing, but getting to the Sweet 16 just means you won a couple of games. We’ve struggled mightily the first weekend — especially given just how good the program has been — but making it to the Sweet 16 is then more of a moral victory.
I wanna win things. In soccer parlance, I want the silverware (or in basketballese, as Brian would say, I want the rafters.) I would much rather be the best team in the ACC than one of the 16 best teams in the country. I barely care about the NCAAs. Just as in European soccer, I would rather win the league and the cup than the Champions League.
I think we’ve hit a big point about the differences in European soccer and NCAA basketball, though. In NCAAB, what matters is March. The silverware is awesome and I will cherish every ACC Championship in literally the “I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen” category — but if the goal for the program is to rise to the upper-echelon of collegiate basketball programs, you’ve got to win in the NCAAT — and you particularly cannot continue to string along massive upset losses (even with the Championship). Cynics right now will say the title is an outlier — and that will only get worse if UVA loses to Maryland on day 2 — or FAU on day 1.
Yeah, I think the way that college basketball is viewed by the vast majority of fans has determined that success in March Madness is paramount to a successful program. American sports are decided by tournament play, that’s how college basketball fans judge a team. You have to win the games when they matter most. The 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 teams are prime examples. Winning the ACC Regular Season and Tournament in 2018 was great, but that season was defined by losing to a 16 seed. Meanwhile, that 2018-2019 squad tied with UNC for the ACC Regular Season title and lost to FSU in the semifinals, but it’s defined by the National Championship.
Obviously those are the extremes and multiple things can be true. I largely agree with Ben and Pierce. Winning the ACC Regular Season has to be expected. Winning the ACC Tournament probably could partially excuse a round of 32 exit. But even then getting upset by either a 13 or 14 seed (assuming UVA is a 2 or a 3) in the first round or a 6, 7, 9, or 10 seed in the second would be another failure in March.
Virginia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since April 8th, 2019. I know, Covid and all, but still. We haven’t seen a successful UVA team in March Madness in nearly four years. Do what should be done in the regular season, do what’s possible in Greensboro (I can live with a loss to Miami or somebody similar there), and then get to the second weekend. Elite Eight plus ACC Regular Season is a very successful season. Sweet 16 plus ACC Regular Season should be the floor for labeling this year as a success considering how good this team is.