Ritchie McKay: UVA basketball ‘disappointed,’ ‘thankful,’ looking ahead

mckayUVA basketball started the 2014-2015 season with an interesting set of expectations – as a preseason Top 10 team nationally that was also picked fourth in the preseason poll of writers who cover the ACC.

And then the Cavs exceeded any and all expectations through mid-March, starting 19-0 and 28-1, before falling back to earth with a 2-3 finish that saw Virginia eliminated in the Round of 32 by eventual East Regional champ Michigan State.

Associate head coach Ritchie McKay acknowledged Monday how “tough” it was to live life on the roller-coaster.

“It’s tough from the standpoint when you go through a season in which November, December, January, February, March, we lost one game, so I think expectations rose not only internally, but externally,” McKay told VirginiaSports.com news content editor Jeff White on the WahooCentral podcast.

“We hoped to be playing at least as long as we were last year, but it didn’t come to pass. I think the character of our guys still stands true. We’re very disappointed, but we’re also thankful for the season that we did have.”

Virginia finished 30-4 overall and won the program’s second consecutive ACC regular-season championship. Back-to-back 30-win seasons, back-to-back 16-win regular seasons in the ACC, back-to-back seasons ending with losses to Michigan State. A lot to celebrate, and a lot to keep players and coaches hungry for next year.

McKay conceded disappointment with the result of the 60-54 loss to the Spartans that ended the 2014-2015 season, but gave credit to Michigan State for having “a lot to do with it.”

“They’ve defended tremendously well throughout this tournament. That’s why they’ve won four games. You think about it, they’ve beaten four pretty good teams,” said McKay, admitting that a late-season problem with poor starts to games “finally caught up to us.”

“Unlike those other games, when we reel it back in, Malcolm (Brogdon) hits a three in the corner at Louisville, he misses a three against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament that would have put us ahead, and he actually missed a three against Michigan State that would have put us ahead, we dug ourselves too big of a hole, and unfortunately we couldn’t get out of it,” McKay said.

Taking the long view, this year’s team was supposed to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode after winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles last year and putting up the program’s first 30-win season in more than 30 years. The Cavs lost two senior starters from its 2013-2014 team, Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris.

“When you lose a defender like Akil, and such a well-rounded player like Joe Harris, I thought we could be competitive again, but I thought it would be very difficult to repeat as ACC champions,” McKay said. “Because we had seen those players that Duke had on the road recruiting and in some different international events, and we knew they were going to be good. So I think for us it’s an accomplishment, back-to-back ACC championships, 16 wins and 30 wins, respectively, in back-to-back seasons. We’ve done well, but we’re not satisfied.”

The injury to Justin Anderson in the Feb. 7 win over Louisville was a key turning point for the 2014-2015 ‘Hoos, according to McKay.

“We’re 20-1, and he had a lot to do with us being 20-1. I think of games where he reached down deep from the depths of loss and pulled out, at Tech and others. So certainly when he went down, we were very concerned. And then the collision at Florida State, we thought Malcolm and London (Perrantes) might be down for a little bit. But our guys in that stretch without Justin, we felt like we still had a chance,” McKay said.

Getting Anderson back into the lineup in March with championships on the line was a delicate situation, to hear McKay tell it.

“The re-insertion of him into the lineup, I think it threw him off, and it threw us off a little bit. Not in the negative, because he had a really good offensive game against Belmont. But we just lost some rotations, guys who knew when they were going to play, and at what time, they were going to get in there, and they knew their role more clearly,” McKay said.

“It was definitely more clearly defined without Justin in there, because Justin is a 10- to 12-shot-attempt-a-game guy, But in hindsight, heck, if you have a chance to have a guy like Justin Anderson on the floor, you want him on the floor, but if he could have been as conditioned as he was, as confident as he was, as healthy as he was, when he went out, I think this team was capable of winning it all. I really do. I don’t mean that to sound like a homer. I just felt like our group was playing at a high level when we were very confident,” McKay said.

McKay sidestepped addressing the $64,000 question regarding Anderson’s next move – returning for his senior year, or declaring for the 2015 NBA Draft.

“We want what’s best for Justin,” McKay said. “I think he’s probably going to continue, if I know him, continue to pray on it and see what’s best after consulting with his family. And we’ll support him either way. Would we love to have Justin Anderson in a Cavalier uniform next year? Absolutely. But if Justin feels like it’s in his best interests and in the best interests of his family, then certainly we want to support that as well.”

Looking ahead to 2015-2016, McKay gave a sneak peek at the non-conference schedule, which will include a home game with Cal, an early-season tournament in Charleston, S.C., and a game in the Jimmy V Classic in New York against West Virginia.

“Our schedule is designed to get us ready for what will be another really grueling ACC season,” McKay said. “I mean, when you look at the players coming back next year, I think we’ll have our work cut out for us. But hopefully we’ll have a team that is ready, prepared and confident to be able to make a run.”

– Story by Chris Graham

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