Fuel to the fire: No respect for defending ACC champ UVA

uva basketballUVA basketball fans might have worried that the program might be due a letdown after a breakthrough 2013-2014 season.

What coach Tony Bennett asks his players to do is hard. They work hard; that’s the secret sauce to the Cavalanche.

They wear teams down, through blood, sweat, tears, toil.

Thirty wins, an ACC regular-season title, an ACC Tournament title, the program’s first Sweet Sixteen since 1995, all nice, but to get to UVA’s first Final Four since 1984 is going to be even more difficult. To a man, the ‘Hoos will tell you that they can’t out-talent anybody, though that’s Bennett chirping in their ears, because there’s obvious talent on this team, but it’s OK that the kids think the way they do.

No matter how talented you may be, though, it’s work that gets you to a Final Four.

And this is a Final Four team. Probably was last year, too, and if not for Anthony Gill going down in the second half against Michigan State in the regional semis, we may have seen that come to fruition.

What’s past is past, what’s future is future. And what’s now is now, with three preseason renderings out in the past week, two national polls putting Virginia at #8 and #9 nationally, and a poll of ACC writers putting the Cavs a distant fourth in the ACC.

Fourth. The defending champs, bringing back seven of the top nine scorers from a year ago, adding redshirt freshman Devon Hall, a heralded freshman class highlighted by B.J. Stith and Isaiah Wilkins, fourth.

It’s hard to get too upset, on the one hand, particularly with the national pollsters. Top 10 is a good starting point for any program in the preseason. Last year’s Cavs, you may remember, were #25, and then fell out of the polls after a rough start that included four losses by the end of December, before going bonkers in January, February and well into March to earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament the program’s first since the Ralph Sampson era.

The ACC writers can’t be faulted, either. Their job, after all, has for years been and continues to be to kiss the backsides of Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, and now with Rick Pitino in the league with Louisville’s addition to the ACC lineup, it’s no doubt confusing as hell to know what else they’re supposed to do to curry the appropriate favor.

No matter. Preseason rankings aren’t worth the paper they’re no longer printed on, as Virginia’s run through the ACC last year can attest.

Though they can be worth something to Bennett as more fuel for the fire that drives his program. They already believe that they don’t have the talent to out-talent anybody and that the only way they have a chance to be competitive is to work, work, work, work.

Now they have three polls telling them that, yeah, sure, it was nice what you kids did last season, winning 30 games and putting up a couple of banners in your practice gym and all, but you’re no Duke, you’re no UNC, you’re no Louisville.

The Virginia guy in me wants to see these kids pissed off. If it makes them work harder, and it will, well, wait for the Cavalanche, because you saw it last year, and it’s coming.

– Column by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny

Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.


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