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Already known for March ineptitude, where does Virginia program go after loss to No. 16 UMBC

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“It’s March, dude,” Kyle Guy said.

He’s sitting in a folding chair in front of his locker, an ACC title shirt over his jersey and a piece of net tied to his ACC title hat with the ACC title trophy that he carried from the court sitting directly across from him. He was answering a question about why a team that has been as consistently good as Virginia has been can so reliably find themselves out of the NCAA tournament before the season’s final weekend.

“Anything can happen.”

I doubt Guy had any inkling how prescient he was.

Because on Friday night, just six days and an eternity after that moment in the locker room, the impossible happened.

For the first time in the history of the planet, a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

And let me be perfectly clear here: UMBC did not just beat Virginia. They ran the Wahoos straight outta Charlotte. The America East champs used 17-3 run to open the second half, taking a 38-24 lead without looking back. Virginia never cut the deficit to single-digits. By the end of the game, I found myself saying, “dang, fellas, you don’t have to run up the score.” The Retrievers not only dribbled out the clock on their final possession of the game, they ate the turnover that came with it.

Because by that point, Virginia had quit.

What’s a shot clock violation when you’re up 74-54 on the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament?

What’s a turnover when you’ve just completed the greatest upset in the history of the sport?

What actually matters when you’ve made history, and done it in such resounding fashion?

Think about this: Not only did UMBC become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, but they also beat Virginia by a larger margin than any No. 14 or No. 15 seed since the bracket expanded to 64 teams. Prior to today, the largest margin of defeat for a top three seed in a first round game was by 14 points. Georgetown managed that as a No. 3 seed in 2010 against Ohio, as did West Virginia, a No. 3 seed, in 2016 against Stephen F. Austin. The most a No. 2 seed had ever lost by was 13 points, when South Carolina fell to Coppin State in 1997.

Virginia lost by 20 points.

And perhaps the least shocking part of this entire night is that it was Virginia that did it, that the one program known for collapsing in March more than anyone else found a way to ensure that their names will never be erased from the record books, that they will forever and always be associated with the Dark Art Of Choking.

“A week ago, we were cutting down the nets at the ACC tournament, how good that felt,” head coach Tony Bennett said with a grace and humility that few would have been able to muster in that moment. “They had a historic season. They really did. In terms of ACC wins, an ACC conference tournament championship and a historic loss, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose. That’s life.”

“But that can’t, in the end, define these guys, our team or us.”

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It may, however, be what defines the program, and that could end up being the biggest hurdle that Virginia has to clear moving forward. The mental aspect. How this affects his team between the ears.

The truth is that Virginia has an unbelievable season, one they had absolutely no business having. They entered the season ranked outside of the top 25, and that was totally justified. They lost a number of key seniors and transfers from a team that was a No. 5 seed. The most talented players on their roster were underclassmen. This was supposed to be the rebuilding year, and they instead went out and won the ACC regular season title by four games and followed that up with an ACC tournament title. They were the No. 1 overall seed, and that wasn’t in doubt for weeks.

It was amazing.

Not even the most out of touch UVA fan — and trust me when I say that there are plenty of them that fall into that category — could have seen this kind of a season coming.

“This team maxed out more than any team I’ve had,” Bennett said.

And no one is going to give a damn about any of it.

Not when they are the only No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, and not when this program is known, above all else, for their inability to get the job done in March.

The kids in that program know the reputation they have. The alumni of the program do, too. Everyone that watches college basketball did before this season, and after what happened on Friday night, the entire world will now. Virginia will be branded as the choke artists. They are the Washington Capitals of college basketball, the Atlanta Falcons of the ACC, the Cubs before last October. English soccer fans will know them as ‘Spursy’, Lindsay Jacobellis on a snowboard.

And it’s not hard to play armchair psychologist and read what happened on Friday as Virginia succumbing to the pressure of the moment. They had yet to give up 70 points in a game this season until UMBC went for 74. They gave up fewer points in 16 of the 34 games they’ve played this season than they did in the second half (53) on Friday night. As the seconds ticked by and they couldn’t shake the Retrievers, panic started to set in. Then they got punched in the mouth at the start of the second half, spent five minutes trying to figure out what the hell happened and by then, it was too late.

The inconceivable became a reality.

(Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

To me, the question isn’t whether or not Virginia’s system works in March.

(Because it does. They’ve won two ACC tournaments playing this way. They’ve always won three ACC regular season titles doing it. And if it wasn’t for one ten-minute stretch at the end of an Elite 8 game — a stretch that was so impressive it got Malachi Richardson, who has played 47 NBA games in two years, picked 22nd overall — they would have a Final Four to their name already. There was a time when we all said that Mark Few wasn’t good enough, and Bill Self wasn’t good enough, or Jim Calhoun wasn’t good enough. There are those that now will say that Chris Mack and Sean Miller, like Tony Bennett, can’t coach because they don’t have a Final Four on their résumé. You’re only the best to never do it until you do it. Then you’re just the best.)

My question is whether or not this program can, mentally, handle the rigors of a tournament run knowing what Virginia basketball stands for to the public at-large.

Bennett was asked about that after the game. He was asked how he’ll go about rebuilding what is already a damaged psyche, and he answered it in quintessential Tony Bennett fashion.

“You’ll remember this,” he said. “It’ll sting. Maybe a No. 1 seed will get beat again. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll be the only No. 1 seed to ever lose. It’s life. It’ll go on. We’ll have to get past that. For some reason, this is what we’ve got to deal with.”

“My job will be ‘how do we bounce back’ with all our players, but a life lesson is sitting there about defining yourself maybe not by what the world says. There’s other things that matter.”

 

Marquette lands Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny

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Marquette pulled in a quality graduate transfer commitment on Friday as Fordham guard Joseph Chartouny pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-3 Chartouny was a three-year starter for the Rams as he should help offset the loss of guard Andrew Rowsey to graduation. While Chartouny isn’t nearly the perimeter threat that Rowsey was, he should be able to help significantly on the defensive end for Marquette. Chartouny put up 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season as he was one of the more productive all-around players in the Atlantic 10.

One of the nation’s leaders in steals the past three seasons, Chartouny has much better size to play alongside Markus Howard in the Marquette backcourt than Rowsey (5-foot-11) had. Since Howard is also 5-foot-11, Chartouny can now guard the bigger and more athletic perimeter matchup as Marquette tries to improve its porous defense from last season.

Marquette still has an open scholarship for next season as they’ve been investigating other transfer options to bolster the roster. Returning most of last season’s roster, the expectation will be for the Golden Eagles to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.