At this point, I think that pretty much everyone knows that UVA basketball got crushed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. As of that game, no one left on ESPN's Tournament Challenge Website had a perfect bracket. UMBC essentially wrecked everyone. This was the first time that a 1 seed lost to a 16 seed and a lot of people are giving UVA heck about it.
People say that they've been overrated all season, that they can't cope with stressful situations in games, and, worst of all, that they don't deserve any respect anymore. I'm here to tell you that these are all false.
The Wahoos started the season as an unranked team just hoping to hit the pretty decent level they were at last year. They were a humble little team coached by someone who cares more about having good people than good players. But then something happened: they started winning. And not just winning, but winning a lot, winning frequently, winning big.
Suddenly, they were ranked.
Then, to the surprise of even the guys working for ESPN, they became the number one team in the nation and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. They play slow basketball, are defense-oriented, and care more about their character as people than their score on the court.
Statistically, they went 17-1 in the ACC and 31-3 overall. The closest team to that was Villanova, who went 14-4 in the Big Ten and 32-4 overall. They were ACC regular season champions outright and ACC tournament champions.
Tony Bennett was ACC Coach of the Year and is shortlisted for NCAA Coach of the Year. Kyle Guy was 1st Team All-ACC, Devon Hall Second Team, and Ty Jerome 3rd Team. Isaiah Wilkins was ACC Defensive Player of the Year and De'Andre Hunter was ACC Sixth Man of the Year.
So, still think they're overrated?
As to their not being able to handle the stress, I invite you to take a look at this video, in which Virginia managed to score 5 points in 0.9 seconds against Louisville to win the game and then talk to me about them handling stress. They might not have had a stellar game against UMBC, but they most certainly can play basketball down to the wire.
People saying that they no longer deserve respect is my biggest issue. First of all, everyone deserves respect. Second of all, this team is one that has fought hard all season to be recognized as being as good as they are. They worked and worked and worked and it showed on the court. Our starting 5 were great, but one of our great strengths was how strong our guys coming off the bench were, guys like De'Andre Hunter, Nigel Johnson, and Mamadi Diakite.
UMBC's live tweets during the game are now trending, but I want to address the one in which they demand respect. No self-respecting team with even an ounce of class would play like UMBC did during the last minute and a half of that game, no matter who their opponent was. To leave the starting 5 in and have them running down the floor dunking the basketball over and over on a team that had so obviously been defeated was uncalled for, classless, and just generally rude. This gets to the real heart of why UVA deserves respect: their attitude.
Tony Bennett leads his team as a family, as a group of good people who are also good basketball players. They are good humans first, good students second, and good players third. Bennett's 5 pillars that he expects each of his players to uphold are humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness. He pushes them to be good people, toward what he thinks is more important than basketball.
The boys take these and apply them to everything, beyond just their time on the court or on the team, and I can honestly say that they apply them to their schoolwork.
UVA is no joke when it comes to schoolwork, being ranked the number 3 public school in the nation. I have personally sat in classrooms with athletes and let me just say that they are not any easier than my other classes. They are expected to meet the same demands as every other student.
Most of those guys came back to UVA after the loss just in time to start studying for midterms.
As for upholding the pillars on the court, I think their record and effort speak for that in itself. To look at this team and how far they've come in proof enough in itself. Yes, they had a bad game, but never say that they don't deserve respect.
Here's to another great season next year. Wahoowa!