Virginia poised for postseason run? Bennett, Brogdon say yes

virginia coach tony bennettVirginia won the ACC regular season title the past two seasons, but a third might be difficult just based on the logjam at the top of the conference.

And yet there is a feeling around not only the program, but across the college basketball landscape, that this Cavs team is the best poised of the recent vintage to make a deep postseason run.

Strange as it might seem, the mid-season struggles that have UVA behind the 8-ball in the ACC regular-season race might be the reason why.

“When you lose and you struggle, then you learn. We realized how fine of a line it is with this year having lost and struggled in some tough conference games as of late,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the ‘Hoos defeated North Carolina, 79-74, on Saturday night.

The first run of losses, at Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech and at Florida State, back in early January, seemed catastrophic at the time, coming to teams expected to finish well back in the pack in the ACC, but they don’t look all that bad now, with each of the three now now owning seven wins in conference play.

The most recent mini-slump, such as it was, featured road losses at Duke (by one, on a buzzer-beater by Grayson Allen) and at Miami (by three, though Virginia had two shots in the final minute that, had they fallen, would’ve given the ‘Hoos the lead).

No shame in any of those, honestly.

“I think when you’re aware of that, it makes you understand how on point you have to be in all those areas that are important to us,” Bennett said.

But you don’t necessarily get that sense when you’re, say, 28-2, like Virginia was at the end of the 2014-2015 regular season, before limping through the ACC Tournament, eliminated by Carolina in the semifinals, and then in March Madness, falling to nemesis Michigan State in the second round.

Those lessons, and the bad taste in the mouth left behind, are still in the back of the mind of the current team, as you might imagine.

“I definitely think we are more equipped. I think we are a more experienced team that has evolved and learned from past experiences of having a great regular season and then relaxing in the postseason,” senior forward Malcolm Brogdon said.

This could be just us trying to see the silver lining, of course. Bennett conceded as much.

“I think that the lessons we’ve learned have taught us more, but I can’t be sure,” Bennett said. “We’ve had some really good teams, but we have some guys that have been in some tight games and learned a lot through the wins and probably more through the losses.”

Column by Chris Graham


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