Getty Images

No. 8 Virginia: How will Wahoos bounce back after loss to UMBC?

Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 8 Virginia.


In the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Virginia managed to accomplish the one thing that will ensure they will forever be remembered in the annals of history: The Cavaliers, as the No. 1 overall seed, not only managed to find a way to become the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed, but they did so while losing by 20 points.

They were run out of the gym in what was just their third loss of the season and their second loss since the first week of December, and we’re never going to forget about it.

History can be unkind when you’re the first to do something no one wants to do.

The question that everyone wants an answer to is simple: How does a team bounce back from that?

Virginia is already a program that has a reputation for choking in March. They’ve won three of the last five ACC regular season titles, two of the last five ACC tournament titles and they’ve entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed three times and a No. 2 seed once in that span. In those five years, they’ve only made it out of the Sweet 16 once. They lost as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in 2014. They lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 Michigan State in 2015. In 2016, they blew a 15 point lead in the final ten minutes of the Elite 8 as a No. 1 seed taking on a No. 10 Syracuse team that barely deserved to get into the tournament in the first place.

And then there was last year.

That kind of streak is tough for any athlete to get out of their head, let alone a group of college kids that are fresh off one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of sports.

That said, the narrative of being a ‘loser’ only lasts as long as the losing does. The Red Sox were cursed until they weren’t. Same with the Cubs. LeBron wasn’t clutch until he led Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors. Peyton Manning wasn’t a winner until he won a Super Bowl. Bill Self, Jim Calhoun and Lute Olson couldn’t win the big one until they did. Hell, Villanova has won two of the last three national titles and prior to that, they were Virginia, the team that won a ton of games before getting bounced out early in March.

It is going to happen for UVA.

Will this be the year it finally does?

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-StarsRyan M. KellyRyan M. Kelly/

VIRGINIA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

We know exactly what they are going to be, and we can take to the bank that they are going to excel doing it.

Tony Bennett’s team is going to play their vaunted Pack-Line defense. They are going to be one of the nation’s five-best defensive teams, if not they best. They are going to finish at or near the bottom of the 353 teams in Division I basketball in possessions per game. They are going to patiently and efficiently run their offense until they get a good look at the rim.

And, in the process, they are going to win a whole bunch of games.

The key is that they aren’t just a system this season. There is talent on this roster. De’Andre Hunter is the biggest name to know. A potential lottery pick and an NBC Sports second-team preseason All-American, Hunter is Virginia’s most versatile defender and the one guy that can really go out and create a bucket for himself. He’s an incredibly important piece to what Virginia wants to do. (More on that in a minute.)

He’s not alone, either. Kyle Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and he will pop up on some preseason All-American lists as well. He’s taken over the role in this offense that was played by Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris before him; the sharpshooter that gets run off of screens and who has plays called for him designed to get him open looks from three.

Ty Jerome is also back, and the steady-if-unexciting point guard is one of the best players in the country you aren’t really paying. With his size, defensive instincts, ability to operate in pick-and-rolls and deep, deep range on his jumper, he’s an NBA sleeper as well. Throw in pieces like Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt and Jay Huff, and there is plenty up front as well.

The issue for this group is not going to be whether or not the players on this roster are good enough.

They are.

Kyle Guy (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT VIRGINIA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

The reason that Virginia lost to UMBC had quite a bit to do with the fact that the Cavaliers were missing De’Andre Hunter for that game; he broke his wrist prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.

Hunter is a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s athletic enough to defend down and he’s big and strong enough to defend up. He is the piece that allows Virginia to matchup with teams — like UMBC — who play four guards, and he also skilled enough offensively that he can go out and create a shot for himself, which is not exactly Virginia’s strength offensively.

Against UMBC, Virginia’s bigs were exposed guarding smaller players over and over again, and they weren’t enough of a threat offensively to punish smaller Retriever defenders at the other end. This wasn’t the sole reason that Virginia lost — UMBC played out of their minds, Virginia had an off-night and once the Cavs realized what was going on, they froze up and could never rally playing at their pace — but it was the root cause of what happened in ‘the game’.

The problem this season is that I’m afraid Hunter is going to be forced into playing the majority of his minutes at the three because, quite frankly, Virginia doesn’t have many guards that are actually good. Their perimeter depth as of today consists of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.

On the other hand, three of their top six players are big men — Salt, Diakite and Huff. Diakite is probably athletic enough that it won’t be a killer defensively if he ends up playing 25 minutes at the four, but it still would be suboptimal for the way that Virginia will need to score.

Which is why the key to Virginia reaching their ceiling …

De’Andre Hunter (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

… is probably the status of Alabama transfer Braxton Key.

Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.

Now, Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.

The NCAA has been more lenient granting these waivers recently. Mustapha Heron at St. John’s was recently cleared to play this season. Key is hoping that he’ll be as lucky, and if he is, I think it changes what the ceiling for this team can end up being. He makes that much more difficult to create mismatches against.

(UPDATE 10/22: Key received a waiver and will be eligible to play this season.)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Virginia is going to be right there in the mix again.

I think they can win the ACC regular season title again. Duke is far from a perfect team and North Carolina will be starting a freshman at the point. Once you get out of the top three in the league, the conference takes a pretty big step down. Put another way, there is a clear-cut tier at the top of the league, and Virginia is a part of that tier.

But their issue has never been winning during the regular season.

Hell, they have won two of the last five ACC tournaments. They can win in a knockout setting.

They just haven’t done it in March yet.

And until they do, until they get to a Final Four and make a run at winning a national title, this is going to be the talking point in regards to this program. We’re never going to forget about ‘the game’, but that doesn’t mean UVA can’t give us something else to talk about, too.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

Getty Images
1 Comment

John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

Getty Images
2 Comments

Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

Getty Images
1 Comment

Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)