Everyone remembers the most remarkable upset in college basketball history. UMBC dominated the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54 and became the first 16-seed to ever beat a 1-seed, essentially erasing Virginia’s entire season. The Cavaliers were 31-3 and 17-1 in the toughest conference in America. They won the ACC regular season and tournament championship. They had fifteen wins against tournament teams and beat five Sweet Sixteen teams. These wins included a win on the road against Duke, two wins against North Carolina, and a win at West Virginia. Despite their first round tournament loss, Virginia finished #2 in the KenPom rankings.
Virginia’s ancient style of play caused both their regular season success and their postseason letdown. As evidenced by their #1 KenPom ranking in defensive efficiency, #1 finish in opposing points per game, and dead last KenPom ranking in adjusted tempo, the Cavaliers slow the game down to a crawl and suffocate the opposing offense. They held their opponent to under 50 points twelve times last season. This is perfect for their personnel and is certainly a large part of their run through the ACC. However, it also gives them very little margin for error. One bad shooting night and they could lose to just about anyone. This along with De’Andre Hunter’s broken left wrist is why the Hoos were knocked off by UMBC. This style of play makes many people complain that they’re boring to watch but I could easily argue that watching Virginia meticulously pick apart a zone defense is one of the most fun things to watch in college basketball. So yes, Virginia is not the best bet in the postseason, but they’re still one of the best teams in the country and I think, the 2018-19 ACC champion.
The Cavaliers bring back three starters and ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. These three starters are sharpshooting guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome as well as center Jack Salt. Kyle Guy, a 6’2″ guard, led the team in scoring last year. He is entering his junior season and should continue to improve. Last year he averaged 14.1 points and shot 39% from three. Guy shares the backcourt with Ty Jerome, another junior guard. He plays very similar to Guy and together they form one of the best backcourts in the nation. They also return De’Andre Hunter, who does a little bit of everything for the Hoos. His broken wrist was a devastating blow to UVA and was a large part of why they were knocked off by Maryland Baltimore-County. Hunter is a versatile 6’7″ guard and is extremely talented. He will have a chance to be Virginia’s first lottery pick since Bryant Stith was picked 13th in 1992. Jack Salt is a defensive force and will probably be tagged a “glue guy” all season long. He is a senior and fits right in with coach Tony Bennett.
Tony Bennett is one of the best coaches in the sport. Last year Bennett won the Henry Iba Award (a college basketball coach of the year award given by the United States Basketball Writers Association), the Naismith College Coach of the Year, and the AP National Coach of the Year. His team was unranked in the preseason last year and ended up being ranked first in the nation for most of the season. Bennett’s teams run the mover-blocker motion offense and the packline defense and are models of efficiency. He could also play some ball himself as he is still first in NCAA history for career three-point field goal accuracy at 49.3%.
The ACC is home to several other great teams. Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse should all be very good this season. UNC has a great team and will hover around the top ten all year. Duke has an extremely talented team with four 5-star freshman, which according to every major sports news outlet means they will win the conference because college basketball is decided by which team has more 5-star prospects. Oh wait. It’s not. Virginia is more experienced, very well coached, and so much better defensively it is embarrassing for Duke. Virginia will defend their ACC title and continue to smother opposing offenses all year long. But once it comes tournament time, I’m not so sure.