Last year, I preached to anyone who would listen that Virginia would struggle in the NCAA Tournament and its ceiling was the Sweet 16. Many argued, saying Tony Bennett would lead the Cavaliers deep into the tournament. Guess what? Virginia lost in the Round of 32 to No. 7 Michigan State.
After the loss, excuses poured down. One of the most common ones was that Michigan State shouldn’t have been a No. 7 seed in the first place and that the Spartans made it all the way to the Final Four. That may be true, but if Virginia is truly a national powerhouse it can’t use the excuse of losing to a team like Michigan State when the Cavaliers are considered a national title contender.
Not to take anything away from what Virginia did during the regular season last year — winning the ACC title in back-to-back years is an impressive feat. However, there’s a ceiling for each team and unfortunately the Cavaliers hit their ceiling last year thanks to the injury of Justin Anderson and subsequently losing Anderson to the NBA Draft.
Virginia will be ranked too high to start the year yet again in 2015-16.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is losing Anderson. Last year when Anderson played, Virginia was extremely officiant on the offensive side of the ball. In fact, KenPom had the Cavaliers as the fifth-best offensive team in the country before Anderson got sidelined. Then, it all went downhill.
In the 12 games Anderson didn’t play or he played less than 15 minutes, they had a KenPom OEff Rating of 103.28. That would have ranked them 145th in the country last year, which puts them behind every single at-large team in the 2015 NCAA Tournament besides San Diego State.
Anderson made this team efficient because of his ability to shoot the ball from deep, something he struggled with his first two seasons and his ability to attack the rim. His play opened up the floor for players like Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey to succeed. This year, with added pressure and no one like Anderson, the Cavaliers will take a step back.
In college basketball, fairly or not, the majority of teams are judged based on what they do in the NCAA Tournament. What Virginia is going to do is what happened to Wisconsin before the last two years. Bo Ryan couldn’t get past the Sweet 16 despite having successful regular seasons. He played a slower paced offense – similar to Virginia – which allowed teams that weren’t as talented to stick around longer. All it took was a couple possessions and Wisconsin found itself out of the NCAA Tournament. Expect the same with Virginia, simply because in a one-game elimination the way Virginia plays doesn’t travel.
You can say what you want about Tony Bennett, but he’s never made it past the Sweet 16 and hasn’t played to seed more often than not. So, while Virginia might be a preseason top-five team, don’t be fooled again. In reality, somewhere in the 12-20 range is more accurate.