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Bennett Ball Week 20: A different tone

I expected to run through NCAA Tournament predictions and bracket analysis today.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

The spread of the coronavirus led to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, effectively ending the Virginia men’s basketball team’s 2019-20 season. Instead of looking forward to the postseason, we’ll take today to look back at this past year.

As a programming note, we’ll alter the section on former Virginia players in the NBA to a section focused on three losses that defined UVa’s season.

Three defining losses

I know, I know. UVa fans don’t want to hear about Virginia’s losses, but the Cavaliers’ losses tell a fascinating story this season.

A 29-point beatdown at Purdue on Dec. 4

UVa entered Mackey Arena as the No. 5 team in the country. Virginia boasted a 7-0 record. It left with a 69-40 loss on its resume in a game that revealed many of UVa’s flaws.

Purdue fans were rowdy — and slightly angry — given the 2019 NCAA Tournament results that took the Boilermakers out of the Big Dance in the Elite Eight. Of course, Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer beater sent the game to overtime, and UVa prevailed in the additional five minutes. 

This year’s meeting went much differently.

“We played on our heels all game, and I had a feeling there’s gonna be extra motivation with that setting, but take that out of it, they cleaned our clock,” UVa head coach Tony Bennett said.

This loss showed UVa’s flaws.

A 54-50 loss to Florida State on Jan. 15

Virginia capped off a three-game losing streak with a four-point loss in Tallahassee against No. 9 Florida State. The Cavaliers performed admirably in the defeat, and while they lost, they gave UVa fans hope in the defeat.

There were positive signs from Virginia, including Tomas Woldetensae knocking down three shots from beyond the arc. UVa led 47-44 in the final few minutes before the Seminoles ended the game on a 10-3 run.

This loss showed UVa’s potential.

An 80-73 loss at Louisville on Feb. 8

After winning three games in a row, UVa fell in a competitive matchup in Louisville in early February. After the loss, Virginia won its final eight games of the season, including a season-ending win over Louisville.

In the loss on Feb. 8, Tomas Woldetensae had his coming out party. He dropped 27 points, and Kihei Clark pitched in 23 points and seven assists. It was a challenging loss for the Wahoos, but the offense came alive in the defeat.

This loss showed UVa’s offense was good enough to carry it to wins down the stretch.

The story arc

Virginia’s first loss came to Purdue and showed the Cavaliers possessed plenty of flaws. UVa’s mid-season loss to Florida State showed the team’s potential. The loss to Louisville showed the Cavaliers were on the verge of going on a run.

Eventually, UVa did go on a run, and the Cavaliers finished the season 23-7 and 15-5 in the ACC.

ACC roundup

After suspending all athletic activity last week, the ACC came out Tuesday and announced the cancellation of all athletic activity through the remainder of the academic year. Virginia followed suit.

All ACC athletic activity for the remainder of the school year is canceled.

In major ACC personnel news, Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley II entered the transfer portal. A member of the All-ACC freshman team, Nolley scored 15.5 points per game this season. While his scoring was impressive, Nolley’s efficiency numbers dropped as the season progressed, and he struggled toward the end of the year.

Regardless, Nolley can score. There will be a sizeable group of teams interested in his services.

By the numbers

» With a pair of wins in March this season, UVa is tied for fourth nationally for the most wins in March over the past five seasons. The Cavaliers have 25 wins in March in the past five seasons.

» Virginia ended the season ranked first in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric for the second time in three seasons. The Cavaliers have ranked in the top 10 of the metric in seven consecutive seasons.

» Mamadi Diakite ended the season as Virginia’s leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game. Braxton Key led the team in rebounds per contest at 7.4. Kihei Clark led the team with 5.9 assists per game.

» Tomas Woldetensae led UVa with 52 made 3-pointers. Kihei Clark led the team in 3-point shooting percentage, making 37.5% of his shots from beyond the arc.

» With 23 wins this season, the Cavaliers have won at least 23 games in eight consecutive seasons.

Awaiting a return

A year without an NCAA Tournament is challenging for coaches, fans and players. It stinks. It’s a necessity for health reasons and public safety, but it still stinks. It’s going to be a disappointing few months for sports fans as we all try to stretch a few weeks of content out of Tom Brady’s free agency decisions.

On the flipside, this gap without sports gives us all an opportunity to revisit why we love sports, especially collegiate athletics. The drama, the pageantry, the storylines; they’re all incredible.

College sports are special. March Madness is unbelievable — UVa’s NCAA Tournament wins a season ago proved that. It’s fun to watch upsets. It’s exhilarating to see mid-major schools upset Power 5 squads in the Big Dance.

Temporarily losing collegiate sports is a tough pill to swallow.

But as Tony Bennett likes to quote, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” One day, hopefully soon, this will all be behind us and collegiate athletes will take the field, the court and the diamond and compete once again.

I’m excited for that day, and I’ll watch those games and cover those stories with a newfound sense of gratitude.

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