CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - It took place over a year and a half ago, but the last men’s basketball team to hold up the trophy at the end of the NCAA Tournament, was the Virginia Cavaliers.
That means, they’re still the reigning champions.
But as head coach Tony Bennett is quick to point out, they only have three scholarship players remaining who played in the 2019 tournament.
“We want the ‘chip on your shoulder’ mentality, because this group has not proved it, or shown it,” says Bennett. “That’s what we’re trying to get towards, to be the best we can be, without saying, ‘We’re the defending champs.’ I mean, sure, in some ways, but that will last you about this long, and then it’s gone. You got to show up and play.”
When they play, it’ll be in front of very limited spectators.
Senior forward Jay Huff says, “I’m sure it’s weird, but at the same time, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. It’s a game, and I’ve enjoyed playing it in empty gyms before, so I don’t think it’s that much different.”
Junior point guard Kihei Clark says, “It’ll be like scrimmage, I guess, where there’s nobody in the stands. It’ll be interesting, and we know we’ll have to generate a lot of our own energy, throughout the team, if there’s not a lot of fans.”
The Cavaliers were named the Preseason ACC favorite for the first time since the 1982-83 season, and just the second time in the 52-year history of the league poll.
They’re also ranked #4 in the nation the AP Preseason Top 25.
“I honestly don’t think that the rankings that came out mean a lot,” says Huff. “I don’t think that most of our guys think that, anyways. Obviously, it’s a cool thing, but at the end of the day, the only ranking that matters, is at the end of the season.”
No matter what they’re ranked, the ‘Hoos won’t change the way they play.
Clark says, “I think the identity of this team is going to be like any other team: our defense. But I definitely think we have offensive capabilities, with a lot of shooters on the floor.”
“We always say, blue collar, not blue blood,” says Bennett. “This is blue collar, in terms of how we have to play.”
Virginia will open the season against Maine on Wednesday in Connecticut.
Their game against Florida on Friday has been cancelled, but the date is still available, if a replacement can be found.