In a short matter of time, the NCAA Tournament will kick off and Hoo fans everywhere will go on pins and needles hoping that this is the year the program transitions from "ACC powerhouse" to "new blue blood" with a Final Four run. It seems to be all most casual fans and national pundits will focus on.
But that's not why I'm here today. Instead, before we emotionally go all-in looking forward to the Field of 68, I want to spend a few minutes with you all looking back, both at the last 33 games and the last few years.
If Virginia fails to make the Final Four, I'm going to be as heartbroken as anyone. But I refuse to let that diminish in my heart what the program has accomplished.
I was a fan throughout the epic collapse of the Jeff Jones regime, the untapped potential of the Gillen rosters, and the volatile Leitao seasons. I even remember those early Bennett seasons, the "lose before we win" years, with some painful performances before empty crowds. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons had their moments, and you could feel momentum subtly shifting as we put together back-to-back winning ACC seasons for the fiirst time since 1999-2000 and 00-01, and back-to-back 20+ win seasons for the first time since 1991-92 and 92-93. It was the first time we'd start talking about milestones not accomplished in a decade or three.
In these last 7 years, we've also seen this program achieve the following:
- First NCAA tournament appearance since 2007
- First NBA Draft pick (Mike Scott) since Sean Singletary in 2008
- First regular season ACC title since 2007
- First outright regular season ACC title since 1981
- First ACC Tourney title since 1976
- First NCAA Tournament 1-seed since 1983
- First Sweet 16 since 1995
- First 30-win season since 1982
- A second outright ACC regular season title
- First NBA 1st round Draft pick (Justin Anderson) since Cory Alexander in 1995
- A second 30-win season
- A second NCAA tourney 1-seed
- First Elite Eight since 1995
- First ACC PoY (Malcolm Brogdon) since Ralph Sampson in 1983
- First All-American (Malcolm Brogdon) since Ralph Sampson in 1983
- First McDonald's All-American recruit (Kyle Guy) since Sylven Landesberg in 2008
- First win at Cameron since 1995
- First unanimous #1 ranking in both AP and Coaches Polls since losing to Chaminade in 1982
- A third outright ACC regular season title, by a record 4 game margin
- A second ACC Tourney title
- A third NCAA tourney 1-seed
- First ever 31-win season (and counting)
Other accomplishments over this seven year run:
- 6 All-ACC 1st Teamers (Scott, Harris, Brogdon x3, Guy)
- 3 ACC DPoY's (Atkins, Brogdon, and Wilkins)
- 3 ACC Sixth Man of the Year's (Anderson, Tobey, and Hunter)
- 3 ACC CoYs and 2 Henry Iba National CoYs for Tony Bennett
- 9 winning streaks of at least 8 games
- Six players logging time in NBA games (Mike Scott, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, Mike Tobey, and London Perrantes), none of whom arrived in Charlottesville as guaranteed future pros.
- A 23-17 record against National Championship-winning coaches, to include a 7-6 record against Roy Williams, 3-5 against Mike Krzyzewski, 7-2 against Jim Boeheim, 5-1, against Rick Pitino, 1-1 against Jay Wright, and an unfortunate 0-2 against Tom Izzo
We're averaging nearly 30 wins a year over the last 5 seasons, and at this point a "down year" is only 25 wins, getting a 5 seed in the Big Dance, and barely missing the ACCT semis. Since the Jeff Jones era peaked, that was practically the program ceiling for 20 years.
The only, and I mean the ONLY, thing missing is the Final Four hardware. We're hanging ACC banners with regularity, seeing players routinely move onto the NBA, and watching the staff and players collect individual awards year-after-year. Oh, and did I mention that they're doing this 100% the right way, never cutting corners, never recruiting prima donnas, sending students to class in real majors, encouraging them to be positive role models in the Charlottesville community, and fostering a brotherhood that alums from previous regimes are clamoring to jump back into? These guys aren't just winners on the court, they're winners in life, and maybe the easiest group of coaches and players to root for you can find.
I could keep cherry picking statistics to support the significance of this historical run, and there are many more, but I'm only going to throw out one additional number. 48. That's how old Tony Bennett is. Assuming he doesn't answer the NBA's siren song (and I'm less concerned about that as time goes on), and our administration doesn't do anything to screw it up (I sincerely hope "Keep Tony Happy" was the first bullet on Carla Williams' job syllabus from the BOV, even ahead of "fix football"), we're still in the first third of what could be a great few decades.
So fans, by all means, live on the edge for the rest of the month. Be elated when we win, and crushed if we lose. I will be. But when the roller coaster has glided into a stop a few weeks or a couple months from now, take a deep breath and remember this tournament in the context of the greater picture we have the honor of looking at. College basketball is deeper than ever, three hundred and fifty one programs in Division 1, and 98% of them would kill to have the success and the stability that we as Hoo fans get to call our own.
Nothing that happens this month is going to take this sense of pride from me.