There have been times at ACC when things change in a big way. Take, for example, when Frank McGuire left, he was followed two years later by Case Everett, forced by illness.
In the 1960s, Vic Poppas and then Dean Smith seized control of the ACC. Pupas only had a decade left, but Smith built a lasting program over the course of 36 years.
Lefty Driesell came along in 1970 and built Maryland into the basketball powerhouse. Meanwhile, Norm Sloan built NC State in an astonishing program, culminating with a two-year run of 57-1 and a national title in 1974 (UCLA’s only loss). ACC fans are still talking about competing in NC and Maryland afterwards. The schools were strong enough to briefly outgrow UNU.
In 1980 Mike Krzyzewski took over at Duke and built an exceptional program, just as ESPN was coming in too.
When Smith retired in 1997, Coach K had a period of dominance like the ACC had never seen before.
And in 2010, Tony Bennett arrived in Virginia and began to turn this program into a nightmare for everyone.
UVa reached its climax in 2019 with an amazing race for the championship and with Ol’ Roy Williams retiring a year ago and Mike Krzyzewski this summer, Bennett has a chance to grab the conference just as Bubas, Smith and Krzyzewski did before him.
Even so, Bennett’s run in the title in 2019 was compelling. Remember, last year Virginia was totally embarrassed by UMBC, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to the No. 16 seed. And he wasn’t close either, with UMBC winning 20 and carving Virginia like a Thanksgiving turkey.
In the end, that helped. The hyper-focused Virginia took out Gardner Webb, Oklahoma and Oregon in relatively ordinary games at the 2019 Dance. Then came Purdue and one of the greatest plays in tournament history: With the game on the line, freshman Keihe Clark chased the ball into the backcourt after a missed free throw attempt and directed it to Mamady Diakite’s courts. , who hit the bell. To put the game into overtime.
This was followed by another thrilling win, this time over Auburn 63-62 and finally an overtime win over Texas Tech to win the title.
Then Covid struck in 2019-20.
Virginia finished 23-7 and of course there was no post-season.
In 2020-21, the Hoos finished at 18-7 but a late game with Covid ensured they would lose to Ohio in the NCAA opener.
And last year, Bennett’s team ended up at NIT, finishing 21-14.
So things have flattened out a bit since the tournament started, mostly because of Covid, but this year looks like a return to normal for the Cavaliers.
First, and most importantly, Clark decided to take his bonus year in Virginia. why not? UVA now generously lists it at 5-10 but that’s a stretch. He’s closer to 5-8 and he’s not so cranky that he’d play in the NBA of that size. It may remain so and add to the Virginia myth.
But Virginia also returns 6-6/242-pound Jayden Gardner, who proved to be a huge pain last year after moving out of the ECU, 6-2 youngster Rhys Beckman, masterful defender, Arman Franklin, a 6-4 move from Indiana who found his touch in the shot in Too late and 6-11 Kaden Sheedrick, who definitely had his moments last season. He could be Bennett’s late classic superstar who often sits out for a year or two and then emerges as a potent force. His biggest problem was the weight but we expect him to be a lot stronger this time around.
Francisco Cavaro 7-1, 252 so he can go down. Taine Murray, 6-5 Kiwi, is also back and has shown signs last year that he could become a factor.
The losses are minimal, and the biggest is Igor Milicic, who left after one season.
Virginia brought in only one transfer deal, 6-8 Ohio’s Ben Vander Place, who played 17 in Ohio State’s NCAA win over UVa.
He’s had a solid career with the Bobcats and he should help Virginia. Shooting him might open the inside to other men. Trivia: His full name is actually Bennett and his dad was a college classmate of Tony’s father, Dick Bennett. So you see where the name came from.
Virginia offers an impressive classroom for freshmen.
Isaac McNeely (6-4/195) comes from Boca, West by Goode Virginia. Poca High’s nickname is Dots and it’s really cool.
He is said to have played in a system similar to Bennett’s, so his adjustment may be quick. He has been compared to former UVA goalkeeper Joe Harris and is said to be a solid shooter and a good player all around. UVA chose over UNC and West Virginia, among others.
Virginia also brought in another Isaac, Isaac Traudt (6-10/230). He’s from Grand Island, Nebraska, and when he showed up, people got so excited. It was also on Duke’s radar. He’s a good shot as he takes the defender out and has solid skills in all aspects. He is not an eccentric athlete but he is very good. Seems to be a perfect fit for Bennett Ball.
Ryan Dunn (6-8/208) could see time at some point, which would be a blessing given Clark’s height. We love Clark, but he’s only small and you can’t fix that. You can go in though and Dunn might see time as his backup. At the age of 6-8 though, he presents a lot of options to Bennett.
Leon Bond (6-5/200) is a very athletic goalkeeper outside of Wisconsin. He’ll need to work on his shot but with Bennett’s defense first system he should get a chance to play early. If you pair it up with Beckman, it could be a real nightmare for opposing backyards. If his shooting role improves, pay attention.
Virginia’s backcountry must be loaded: Clark, Franklin, Dunn, Bond, and McNeely would be as good as everyone else. And don’t forget Murray, who could become a worker.
There are questions in advance. Is Shedrick ready? How will you fit in Vander Plas? How much can Troud take as a new student? Can they defend by Bennett’s criteria?
There are not many questions about Gardner. He proved his worth last year.
Like Clark in the past few years, Gardner has been asked to do a lot. Virginia had no choice. Bennett rode his horses aggressively, and both did well under the present circumstances, but Clarke is not the first choice and Gardner, while performing reasonably well, should not be a primary choice for the post.
Here’s the main thing to remember about Virginia this year: No one should be asked to do more than they can. Nobody has to play outside the center. must be done.
And with talent influx, Bennett’s side should return to what we’ve come to expect from Virginia: a meat grinder in defense and brutally impatient in attack.
You can’t say for sure that this is the Final Four, but 30 wins is a reasonable goal.
We would be shocked if Virginia didn’t finish in the top three in the ACC. It also seems likely that a deep wave will occur in March.