STIEVATER: A look at Virginia’s recent postseason history

The Cavaliers are looking to flip the script despite historic NCAA Tournament struggles

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Virginia has made March Madness the last five years but hasn't made it past the Elite Eight.

Sarah Dodge | Cavalier Daily

Since Coach Tony Bennett took over the program in 2009, he has led the Cavaliers to superb regular seasons, including four ACC regular season championships and two ACC Tournament titles. Virginia has made the NCAA Tournament in the past six seasons, adding to the hope that this year would be the year the Cavaliers would be crowned national champions. But so far, each season has ended in defeat.

The 2013-14 season was the first under Bennett where Virginia really exploded onto the national scene. After finishing the regular season 30-7 and winning the ACC Tournament, the Cavaliers landed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1995, but eventually lost a close game to No. 4 seed Michigan State. Despite the disappointing loss, the Cavaliers showed the country they would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

After starting the 2014-15 season ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll, the Cavaliers dominated the entire season and finished 30-4. This phenomenal record landed them a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and inevitably brought more national championship aspirations. But similarly to the year before, Virginia was upset in the second round by Michigan State, this time the No. 7 seed. The Spartans appeared to have the Cavaliers’ number.

2015-16 brought another great regular season for the Cavaliers, and they received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia was viewed as a favorite to win it all and fans were hoping this was the year. The Cavaliers appeared to be headed in the right direction at first, as Virginia handily won its first three games, marching on into the Elite Eight. Facing No. 10 seed Syracuse, there was good reason to feel optimistic about the chances of reaching the program’s first Final Four since 1984, particularly with Virginia up double digits at the half. However, Syracuse ended up winning the game 68-62.

Coming off three straight seasons of great regular season play combined with upsetting finishes, the 2016-17 season went a bit differently. Virginia finished the regular season 23-11, a solid record but not on par with their recent excellence. They received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and did not have as many lofty expectations as they had in seasons past. The Cavaliers lost in the second round to No. 4 seed Florida and ended their season early once more.

Last season brought a sense of hope that Virginia had turned the corner. The Cavaliers played well all season long and finished with a 31-3 regular season record, winning the ACC regular season title and tournament title. The team received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and were one of the favorites to win the national championship.

Sadly, as we all know, that did not happen. Virginia notoriously became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose a No. 16 seed. To spare all readers, and myself, loads of heartache, I think that is all that needs to be said about that somber Friday night last March.

After five straight seasons ending in defeat, the Cavaliers have had yet another dominant regular season. With a record of 29-3 and an ACC regular season title, Virginia has received another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and will look to exorcise their recent demons beginning this weekend against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb. 

When fans go to fill out their brackets, it will be understandable to doubt the Cavaliers. In those past five seasons, the seeds to advance out of Virginia’s regions have been 7, 7, 10, 7 and 11. But this history doesn’t mean much. The tournament losses in March are part of this program’s story under Bennett, just like their myriad wins in the regular season. And this story in March will change.

I believe this is the year Virginia can turn it around.

With so many early exits in past seasons, I think Virginia has the ultimate chip on their shoulder. They know they have come up short and have not reached their potential. Veterans like junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome know the pain of defeat in March and are determined to not let it happen again.

Just look at Guy’s Twitter account for evidence. He recently retweeted a tweet commemorating the anniversary of Virginia’s historic loss to brandish the chip on his shoulder. Gardner-Webb should be scared to face this Cavaliers team.

The beginning of March is the best because you can envision their big win. April 8, 2019. Hundreds and hundreds of people flood The Corner, jumping around and hugging each other, screaming at the top of their lungs. A national championship has finally come to Charlottesville.

A moment like this would be a highlight of every student’s time at Virginia, and I’m praying this is the year we can all experience this glory.

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