It Might Be Time to Recognize Virginia As Best Team in College Basketball


Much of the fanfare emanating from Virginia’s 57-28 win over Georgia Tech Thursday is, well, 28 points is really bad — so bad, in fact, the Yellow Jackets fell five points shy of matching Ohio State freshman De’Angelo Russell’s career-high output against Northwestern.

Overshadowed in Georgia Tech’s offensive ineptitude is that once against, Virginia managed to look like the best team in college basketball.

The Cavaliers have done so repeatedly in the 2014-’15 campaign, yet are seemingly flying below the national radar.

ESPN isn’t airing hype packages for Virginia’s pursuit of perfection. Draftniks aren’t buzzing about Justin Anderson’s pro potential.

And really, that might suit head coach Tony Bennett just fine.

Walloping a bad Georgia Tech team is hardly reason to celebrate a team’s prowess. Thursday marked the Wreck’s sixth straight loss, after all.

However, the win Thursday is one testament among many that demonstrates just how locked into Bennett’s strategy the Cavaliers are. This is a team with a clear strategy and an identity from which it never deviates.

Virginia is all about tenacious defense, holding 15 of its 18 opponents below 60 points. Georgia Tech is the second the Cavaliers kept below 30, having held Rutgers to 26 early in the season.

Complementing its aggressive defensive approach is a balanced offensive attack. Five Wahoos average 6.9 points per game or better, with three averaging in double-digits.

That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, given this is a team that employs one of the more deliberate offenses in college basketball.

Anderson told Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports that Virginia’s roster is loaded with “underrated, hungry guys.” That comes as no surprise to those familiar with Bennett.

After taking over for his legendary father, Dick, at Washington State, Bennett coached the Cougars to a Sweet 16. For context on just how monumental that accomplishment is, consider the only other time Washington State won two NCAA Tournament games in the same year was 1941.

It’s no coincidence Washington State has not been back to the Big Dance since Bennett left, and it’s equally no coincidence Virginia has its best team since the early 1980s.

The only difference is there is no superstar like Ralph Sampson in the lineup.

No, the 2014-’15 Virginia Cavaliers don’t bring to mind that giant of sports. For me, Virginia basketball is like another giant: heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko.

Neither employ the sexiest style in their particular sport, preferring a methodical approach to high-risk.

It may not be the most enticing to casual fans, but it damn sure is effective. Virginia is nowhere near Klitschko’s nine-year undefeated streak, but an 18-0 start ain’t bad.

Virginia has a body-bag game with Virginia Tech Sunday — the Hokies are coming off a 25-point loss to Notre Dame and should be little more than a tomato can before the Cavaliers embark on a three-game stretch of heavyweight tilts.

Next Saturday, Virginia welcomes Duke to Charlottesville in a game that could go a long way to determining the ACC regular-season champion. This contest also offers a stark contrast in styles, as the Blue Devils have been among the more exciting offensive teams in the nation.

Just two days later, Virginia travels to the Dean Dome to play North Carolina, then finishes out with a home contest against Louisville.

Should the Cavaliers navigate that stretch 3-0 and improve to 22-0, I should have plenty of company in calling this the best team in college basketball.

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