Virginia close to exorcising postseason failures
A national championship tonight will erase Virginia making history of losing to a No. 16 seed in the first round last year and years of tournament failures.
Tony Bennett took on an daunting challenge of coaching the Virginia Cavaliers ten years ago by leaving Washington State. Daunting in a sense Duke, North Carolina and Florida State headline the Atlantic Coast Conference that Virginia is in.
Fast forward to now, he can lead Virginia to a national championship Monday night if the Cavaliers beat the Texas Tech Raiders. To say it would be the pinnacle of his career would be an understatement.
Despite leading Virginia to great heights in his tenure, he experienced tournament failures. Last year stands out the most when he and his Cavaliers made history by being the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to the first No. 16 seed University of Maryland-Baltimore County in men’s NCAA tournament.
Bennett used a TED Talk video to have his players find something good out of that embarrassment before the season started. He wanted his players to not hide from last season’s embarrassment and he encouraged his players to use that experience to make them better for it.
It worked in a positive manner, even if it was not easy. Players used that experience to fuel them this season and in the NCAA tournament.
The work is not done, though. Nothing less than a national championship will do. Winning a national championship makes it easy for players to get over last season’s disappointment and for critics to stop obsessing about Virginia being on the wrong side of history.
In revenue-making sports, it’s about results. Winning and losing define coaches, players and the team in general. It’s not fair, but that’s reality in this world.
As great of a job Bennett has done in Virginia, he is more known for his postseason failures. His high-seeded teams often flame out, and that was before last season. Critics skewered him for focusing more on the defensive side of the ball rather than the offensive, even though Virginia’s offense has been efficient.
The head coach makes no apologies for how he coaches his team. He learned his craft at coaching through his father Dick Bennett, who coached the Wisconsin Badgers at one time. To stray away from his defensive principles would be a sign of panic. It would reflect poor leadership and ability to coach by doing something rash.
It’s funny critics get on Bennett for putting so much emphasis on defense. Texas Tech’s success predicates on defensive principles that Chris Beard used from his mentor Bobby Knight when he was his assistant at Texas Tech, and everyone lauds it.
It shows results create perception on the basis of winning and losing.
One figures Bennett and Virginia would be appreciated just being in a position to compete for a national championship on a year in and year out basis. No one thinks of the Cavaliers as a blue blood program. But disappointments become a stigma when this happens consistently. It becomes a burden.
Pressure’s on the Cavs to win it all tonight, and it will always be that way in future postseason tournaments unless they win it all. Winning a national championship makes years of failures easy to deal with since it showed players and coaches learned from it.
Virginia talks about how last year turned out to be a blessing so much that it becomes a cliche. That’s all well and good, but it means nothing if the Cavs don’t get the job done, and they know it.
This already has been a great season for them. No one expected them to win a national championship or even play in the championship game. For them to survive a challenge against Purdue to get to the Final Four should be their shining moment.
But last year stings so much that everyone remembers that more than what Virginia accomplished this season. It turned out to be so bad that Virginia junior guard Kyle Guy dealt with anxiety issues.
Everyone loves what Texas Tech accomplished this season, especially after losing six of its top eight scorers from last season, and being picked to finish seventh in the Big 12.Texas Tech coach Chris Beard’s rags to riches story inspires everyone.
But the Cavaliers winning the national championship makes it a better story after what they endured last season and in years’ past. It shows failure does not have to define anyone in a world where everyone likes to put each other down.
If the Texas Tech Red Raiders lose the national championship game, they still will be celebrated.
No one can say the same for the Cavaliers, so they have more to lose than gain.
No one can mention last year and the last few years anymore if Bennett becomes the last person to cut down the nets.