Betting On Bennett
Editor’s note: Columnist Will Ojanen is a dyed in the wool Cavalier fan but it doesn’t keep him from seeing all sides of the story. Will reflects on the recent trials and tribulations of the Virginia men’s basketball team and comes to this conclusion. He’ll bet on Bennett.
When it became inevitable that history was going to be made, I, like many of you was in total shock. We’ve seen 16 seeds come very close to beating one seeds in recent years but no one really expected it to happen.
Of all teams for it to happen to, it was a Virginia team that more than a few people had picked to win a national championship. This is the same team that metrics say was one of the best in many years. Alas, for one night the team failed to do anything close to resembling what this same group had accomplished in the previous 33 games and that was to play strong defense.
UMBC threw the first punch and kept throwing hay makers. Clearly, Virginia was rattled. The Wahoos couldn’t find an adequate response.
What does one make of this performance? That may be one of the most baffling questions ever presented. Nobody seems to know the answer. This isn’t something we’ve encountered before. Well, at least not on the men’s side.
Betting On Bennett
It has happened on the women’s side. In 1998, Stanford became the first one seed to lose to a sixteen seed.
What’s happened to Stanford’s women’s basketball program since that tumultuous loss? They’ve made every NCAA Tournament since. They’ve gone to the Sweet Sixteen 14 times, the Elite Eight 11 times and the Final Four 7 times and yes, they’ve made it to the National Championship game. Two times to be exact.
Even though there is no guarantee Virginia will have similar success going forward, it’s certainly more than a bit premature to say the program is anywhere close to tanking. We won’t know what trajectory the team will take for quite a few years. Here’s one thing we all know, coach Tony Bennett has a knack for doing better than everyone expects.
With that in mind, I’m not betting against Tony Bennett. You’re welcome to but I think I’ll take the guy who’s won 72% of his games at Virginia. That includes 67% of his conference games along with three regular season titles, two ACC Tournament titles and three ACC Coach of the Year Awards. Let’s not forget that he has made two Sweet Sixteen appearances and one in the Elite Eight. So far. The record book is still open. Simply put, he’s one of the best coaches in college basketball.
Betting On Bennett
To those of you who want to toss Bennett out, take a step back for a second. Who do you think Virginia could get that could top the record I just mentioned? Realistically? Nobody. Do you really think new AD Carla Williams would be so brash as to pull a move like that? I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want that blood on their hands so soon into her tenure at the school.
When you look at the ACC next season you’ll see that Virginia has yet another chance of winning the conference. Even though Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins graduate, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter will be back. Plus, you have to be encouraged with the way Mamadi Diakite picked up his play toward the end of this season. He’s a likely starter next season. There are plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the boards and we know the defense will be as stingy as ever.
If you’ve watched this NCAA Tournament you’ve seen a lot of things that can happen in a random one loss and done situation. Take a closer look at Virginia’s region. The top four seeds are all gone along with sixth seed Miami. I don’t think there are any grand judgments about Mick Cronin, Rick Barnes, Sean Miller or Jim Larranaga off of their one loss that match some being made about Bennett.
Look. The only way Tony Bennett is leaving Virginia is if he takes a job coaching in the NBA. Otherwise, he’s going to be at Mr. Jefferson’s school for quite a while. As long as he’s coaching the team, they’ll continue to be successful. Bet on it.