‘We go places that win’: Consistency makes UVA a top ESPN College GameDay destination
Story by Zach Pereles
Whether it’s for football or basketball, the atmosphere surrounding the on-campus show is one of the best things across sports. It brings together a student body and shows it on center stage for the nation to see. It’s a great way to show off the campus and draw recruits for an impressive visit.
And for the fourth time in five years, it’s in Charlottesville for Cavaliers basketball, this time for a clash against Duke.
There’s a simple reason for why Tony Bennett’s bunch has become a popular destination for Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg.
“They win,” Bilas said Friday. “We go places that win, because those are the highest-rated games. People want to see a winning team. The last five, six years, they’ve been as good as anybody and as consistent as anybody.”
Bilas, 55, played for Duke from 1982-1986 and has been part of “GameDay” since its inception in 2005. As a former college player, he’s been most impressed by Virginia’s game-to-game consistency under Bennett and the Cavaliers’ ability to make life tough on opponents.
“They’re hard to play against,” Bilas said. “They don’t change game-to-game. They’re the same all the time. A lot of teams are very, very good, and they can play great. Virginia’s consistent at the highest level, and that’s the hardest thing — to be consistent. They’ve lost one game this year. They only lost one ACC game last year. That’s an extraordinary run, and that’s not an accident.”
Consistency is the one words that stands out more so than anything else. Davis, who, like Bilas, has been around for the show’s entire existence, has seen Virginia blossom from cellar-dweller to middle of the pack to championship contender.
“Consistency’s hard,” Davis, 53, said. “A lot of places can put together good teams. I think it’s really difficult to put together a great program, and that’s what Tony’s done. They lose guys [but] they develop other players to be ready to play their style and system.”
Davis is certainly familiar with this year’s Virginia team, and not just from his show preparation both in Charlottesville and in Durham a few weeks ago. He was on the call for Virginia’s narrow 66-65 win over NC State.
“They didn’t play up to their typical standard,” Davis said. “At the same time, the overwhelming majority of teams in the country — even the really good teams at the top — would lose when it’s like that. But [Virginia] didn’t, and I think that speaks to the culture and their commitment to excellence and all those things. The consistency is the hardest thing, because complacency is the enemy of great. And they never allow themselves to get complacent.”
Greenberg, 62, can bring a unique perspective to the conversation. He coached against Bennett for three seasons while at Virginia Tech. To Greenberg, it’s Bennett’s consistency that has allowed the program to rise to where it is today.
“He’s so good,” Greenberg said. “The thing that impresses me is how consistent he is in his approach.”
There’s that word again.
“He’s the same guy in a disappointing loss to UMBC as he is a great win against Duke and winning an ACC championship,” Greenberg continued. “I think the consistency of his approach and his consistency of how he communicates with his team and coaches his team is the reason that you see the product you see. He’s a phenomenal teacher and terrific tactician, but … you can’t be all those things if you’re not a great communicator. He understands exactly who he is and how he wins, and he’s not going to deviate, and he’s not going to take any shortcuts in the kind of guys he wants in this program, and he’s going to develop to guys he has to get them to play the way he wants them to play.”
To Greenberg, the next step for Virginia is a national championship, and he has no doubt in his mind that Bennett can achieve that, citing Virginia’s ACC success as support.
“They’re playing teams that are winning championships and competing for championships,” Greenberg said. “If the system’s good enough to beat those teams, it’s good enough to win a national championship.”