After the unprecedented cancelation of the 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournaments — commonly known as March Madness — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were left with heartbreak. Little by little, millions of sports fans’ hearts have been filled again with the return of nearly every other major sport. That is, besides college basketball, which is slated to officially return Nov. 25. While the details of the Cavaliers’ season opener remain unknown, here are 10 things that all Virginia men's basketball fans should be looking forward to for the 2020-21 season.
1. Defending the 2019 national championship
It is not often that a team gets to defend its national title from two seasons ago without winning the one in between. But that is exactly what the Cavaliers will get to do this season. Virginia finished last season 23-7, 15-5 in the ACC and ranked No. 16 in the AP Poll. Even though the Cavaliers closed out the season by winning eight straight games and 12 of their last 14, the odds were stacked against them to win another title. This season, they will get a fresh start to do so.
2. The addition of Sam Hauser
After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, senior forward Sam Hauser will finally be able to suit up for Virginia after transferring from Marquette. Commonly viewed as one of the top transfers from last year, Hauser averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in his final season for the Golden Eagles. He also earned second-team All-Big East honors. His addition will be huge for the Cavaliers and will help fill voids left by recent graduates, such as forwards Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key.
3. The continued improvement of Kihei Clark
After contributing valuable minutes his freshman season, junior guard Kihei Clark became the motor that ran the offense during his sophomore season. Now, in his third season, Clark will look to elevate his game to the next level. Last season, he improved his performance in nearly every statistical category, averaging 10.8 points and 5.9 assists per game. Coach Tony Bennett has consistently demonstrated the trust he has in Clark, and as he continues to gain more experience, that trust will only grow.
4. Jay Huff's breakout year
During his first two seasons in Charlottesville, 7-foot-1 senior forward Jay Huff showed flashes of brilliance. However, he did not play at a high level consistently throughout the season. That changed last year when he doubled his per game averages in points and blocks and tripled his rebounds per game average. He was the spark plug on defense and often swung the momentum of a game, most notably in the upset win over No. 7 Duke when he recorded 10 blocks. Huff will look to build on his best season yet and break out into a true college basketball star.
5. How COVID-19 will be handled
Arguably, the biggest question mark across all college sports in the U.S. is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That being said, college basketball has the unique benefit of seeing nearly every other sport’s attempt to manage the pandemic and learning key lessons from their experiences. Despite this advantage, the pandemic will still pose a challenge. Student-athletes and coaches will either test positive for the virus or be exposed to it, and games will inevitably be canceled. From a playing perspective, the Cavaliers — along with every program in the country — will need to be able to adjust on the fly and adapt to constantly changing circumstances.
6. The freshman class
Virginia's 2020 recruiting class consists of three commits and one preferred walk-on. Four-star forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim leads the trio, with four-star guard Reece Beekman and three-star guard Carson McCorkle joining him. Guard Malachi Poindexter from St. Anne's-Belfield School received a preferred walk-on spot. Abdur-Rahim is likely to receive significant playing time right from the start, with Beekman and McCorkle likely to get some minutes too. The ability of these freshmen to contribute quickly will be key in Virginia's development this season.
7. Tony Bennett
Entering his 12th season with Virginia, Bennett is already viewed as one of college basketball's greatest coaches. He has made six straight NCAA Tournaments — seven if you include the one the Cavaliers would have made last season. Watching Bennett use his signature pack-line defense is always exciting and the offense should be substantially better this season too. Having a head coach as consistently excellent as Bennett is a blessing for the Virginia men's basketball program. With Bennett at the helm, fans should be reassured that the team is in good hands.
8. Casey Morsell's revenge season
It is no secret that last season was tough for freshman guard Casey Morsell. As a highly touted recruit, Bennett trusted him with playing time early. But, the stage appeared too big for Morsell at times. He finished the season shooting just 27.7 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from three-point range. Morsell is a much more capable scorer than what his performance last year suggested, and has even said that he "knows he is going to take off." Given his clear talent, Virginia fans should fully expect to see a major jump from Morsell this year.
9. ACC dominance
With typical powerhouses like Virginia, Duke and North Carolina — and other great teams like Louisville, Florida State and Syracuse — the ACC is arguably the best college basketball conference in the nation. According to the William Hill Sports Book, the ACC has three of the top 10 favorites to win the national title this season — Duke at +1000, Virginia at +1200 and Florida State at +2500. The only other conference with three teams is the Big 12. While college sports are never a sure thing, the ACC looks set to impress again this year.
10. The return of college basketball
For diehard college basketball fans, there was nothing more disappointing than the cancellation of March Madness. A major part of the year was taken away and could not be enjoyed by millions. The country, and the world, has been through a lot this year and in the long run, college basketball probably does not fall on the side of what is most important. However, the day it returns will be a glorious day celebrated by sports fans from all over.