No program is more aware of the random, fluky outcomes that an entire season’s body of work could finish with than the Virginia Cavaliers. The nature, and beauty, of March Madness is that lesser performing teams can defeat juggernauts over any given 40-minute span. But let’s put that aside for a second. What if we played UVA’s seasons over again 10,000 times each? Would we yield the same results? Probably not.
In this hypothetical exercise, we will rank each of Virginia’s teams from 2014-15 through this coming season.
This was the only time that the Cavaliers did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid over this span, finishing with a 21-14 (12-8) record. Putting this into perspective is incredible, especially considering that this team beat a top-10 Duke squad on the road, and blew out Miami, who was eventually Elite Eight bound.
With that being said, the 2021-22 team earned their position. Their offense mightily struggled all around and the defense was not sharp enough to compensate. Failing to reach 50 points in a deflating loss to North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals was the icing on the cake.
After losing their trio of superstars, Mamadi Diakite led a completely different looking group of faces. Tony Bennett’s depleted roster still managed to go 23-7 (15-5). This put them in position for a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament before the season was canceled due to COVID.
This team was essentially an exaggerated version of the narrative about Virginia basketball. Their offense ranked 215th while the defense placed at the top of the country by a large margin.
Although the ‘Hoos won 11 of their last 12 regular season games, this may not have been indicative of their true talent. Eight of those 11 victories were by one possession. Of course, that is simply the nature of the low-scoring style of basketball they played but a few bounces go differently and the record looks different. The Cavaliers were a NCAA Tournament caliber team but were also beneficiaries of luck.
London Perrantes led a young Virginia team to a 23-11 (11-7) record in a strong ACC. Perrantes’ 24 points were enough to mount a comeback victory in the first round over 12-seeded UNC Wilmington before falling victim to Florida in dominant fashion.
The results of this season are rather indicative of this roster’s true capabilities. The growing pains were inevitable, and were shown with their four game losing streak in the heat of conference play. They also had a relatively high floor, avoiding any non-power conference losses, and seven of their eleven losses coming to teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
Of course, since this season has not happened yet, it is 100% projection based. Most analysts have Virginia outside their preseason top 25 and some are bold enough to claim they may not make the NCAA Tournament at all.
In reality, while the ceiling of this team is not nearly as high as some of the others, senior guard Reece Beekman provides a safety net on both ends of the court. Additionally, the front court of Ryan Dunn and Merrimack-transfer Jordan Minor could be one of the most capable in the country. The offensive weapons are not abundant but with knock down shooters like Isaac McKneely, and potentially St. Thomas-transfer Andrew Rohde, we can expect the ‘Hoos to place among the middle tier of the ACC in points per possession.
This was a strange year for UVA basketball. Aside from COVID modifying the game schedule throughout the season, the ‘Hoos opposed their usual identity. With forwards in Sam Hauser, Trey Murphy, and Jay Huff leading the way as shooters, Bennett ditched the mover-blocker scheme. Although Virginia shot an ACC leading 37.5% from beyond the arc, their defense was too shaky.
The 2020-21 season ended in a devastating first round NCAA Tournament loss to 13-seeded Ohio (shoutout Ben Vander Plas). The true talent of this team was likely a Sweet Sixteen exit. Although we saw early on that the Cavaliers were prone to upset, they won 13 of 17 ACC games. We also saw that they could not find the answer for elite offenses, after nearly getting 100-pieced by Gonzaga.
After missing the tournament in the aforementioned 2021-22 season, this Virginia team, with a similar but more experienced roster makeup, had higher expectations. In the regular season, they absolutely delivered, compiling a 25-8 (15-5) record including victories over Baylor, Illinois, Duke, and taking two of three from North Carolina. However, their lone NCAA Tournament game was an upset loss to 13-seeded Furman, occurring because of a collapse in the final seconds.
When determining the true talent of this team, it is important to consider that Beekman injured his hamstring early in the season and it became a nagging injury through March. For the purpose of this exercise, we would determine that UVA got unlucky. At the same time, they did not have any superstars and, even at their peak, each side of the ball was a step below elite.
This season will always be remembered for one thing: the historic loss to UMBC. Nonetheless, if we are evaluating things from a holistic standout, the full body of work must be taken into account.
The ‘Hoos went 31-3, running the table in the ACC with the exception of an overtime loss to Virginia Tech. They spent several weeks atop the AP Poll and earned the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UMBC loss aside, this team still performed above their true talent level. Everything was clicking (until it wasn’t) and if you kept replaying the season, it might have gone slightly differently, disallowing the Wahoos from even being in position for a historic upset. UVA was unranked to start the year for a reason. While the pieces were there, it is evident that things were one year premature, in hindsight.
Led by Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, this was arguably the beginning of the dominant defensive era for Bennett’s program. They held Rutgers, Harvard, and Georgia Tech to under 30 points each. The team finished 30-4 (16-2) before falling victim to Michigan State in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
This was certainly a disappointing finish but the loss to the Spartans was not fluky, like some of the others. A specific weakness of the team was exploited. In short, the Virginia offense was not comparable to the teams that advanced out of the first weekend.
This was the Malcolm Brogdon team... and it is still heartbreaking that they let the Final Four get away from them. The regular season featured wins over top 15 teams in Villanova, West Virginia, Miami (x2), and North Carolina. Overall, the Cavaliers boasted a 29-8 (13-5) record with a gauntlet of a schedule.
Aside from the team we are about to discuss, this is the one group I confidently believe should have made the Final Four, not just in practice, but if you replayed the season too. Brogdon was a superstar and the supporting cast was there. Unfortunately, Jim Boeheim had some magic up his sleeve that day.
Over 350 teams play in Division 1 basketball and only one ends their season by achieving the ultimate goal. National championships should never be taken for granted.
With that being said, this team was leaps and bounds more capable than any other product Bennett has produced on the court. De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy were all superstars and everyone else in the rotation fit perfectly as surrounding role players. Despite the improbable finishes in the final three rounds that all went in favor of the Cavaliers, this team was undoubtedly the best in the country and the most equipped to make an NCAA Tournament run.
While things might have played out differently in 10,000 simulations of the season, a National Title was destiny for the 2018-19 ‘Hoos.