Today we spell redemption: U-V-A



COLIN HORNING, Sports Writer

When we think of Cinderella teams in March Madness, we think of the teams that made improbable runs who had no business making it that far into the tournament. A lot of times, these are the teams that casual basketball fans have never heard of.

Teams like the 2010 Butler squad that came oh-so close to knocking off Duke, the Final Four-bound Loyola-Chicago team from last season or the Virginia Commonwealth team of 2011 will both forever be remembered in NCAA tournament history.

It’s understandable to think that a one-seeded team winning the national championship would have no business being in consideration of a Cinderella team, but the 2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers can now be chalked up there with the Butlers and Loyolas of NCAA lore.

As most basketball fans will recount, last season’s Virginia team became the first ever one-seed to lose to a 16-seed at the hands of the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, or UMBC.

They didn’t lose by a slim margin either – UMBC clocked the tournament’s top overall seed by 20 points. Virginia became a laughingstock and UMBC was on top of the world for the few days following their victory.

In the press conference following his team’s historic upset loss, head coach Tony Bennett was quoted saying: “We’ll have to get past that. For some reason this is what we’ve got to deal with, and my job now will be to say hey, how do we bounce back, our players and all that.”

Returning with household names like Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, DeAndre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite, who no doubt had a bad taste left in their mouths following last season’s tournament loss, the Cavaliers did in fact bounce back – all the way to become national champions.

Many analysts and writers considered the ACC to be the best conference in college basketball this season, with three of the four one-seeded teams coming from the conference.

When most of us filled out our brackets, we likely were hesitant to pick Virginia to go very far after what happened to them the season prior, especially with their ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina sporting impressive squads themselves. But the more the public doubted them, the more UVA proved them wrong.

Nearly every game on their route to the championship was a hard-fought grind. Their first-round win against Gardner-Webb saw the Cavaliers struggle in the first half, trailing by double-digits to a 16-seed (again). Their second-round victory against Oklahoma never really seemed like a sure victory. They had to grind out a three-point win, mostly on the defensive end, in the Sweet 16 against Oregon. In the Elite 8 versus Purdue, they trailed right up until time expired when Diakite tied the game to force overtime. And they squeaked out a Final Four win against Auburn with hardly any time remaining (the foul or no-call debate is a different story).

So, it was only natural that their national title matchup against Texas Tech would be a hard-fought game that would need the extra five minutes to determine the winner.

Both of these teams would have been deserving national champions. Texas Tech cruised through their region, held off Big Ten champion Michigan State and their defense was easily one of the best in basketball. Being that it was their school’s first ever Final Four and national championship appearance, it would have been a great story for them to have cut down the nets.

But this year’s Virginia team had just a little more Cinderella magic (or help from the officials, depending on how you view it).

One year ago, the Virginia men’s basketball team was laughed at, forgotten and slept on. Now, they are national champions and will go down as one of the greatest success stories in sports.