There’s no coach I feel worse for this morning than Virginia’s Tony Bennett and no player that I sympathize with more than Cavaliers star Malcolm Brogdon. This is a coach and player that have done yeoman’s work in lifting UVA from an okay program to a national power over the last three years. And with the Final Four in their grasp yesterday evening in Chicago, it all slipped away.
Virginia led Syracuse 37-21 early in the second half of their regional final game. With the Cavs defense, this should have been a done deal. Ballgame. But Orangemen head coach, retiring Jim Boeheim made a strategic tweak and extended his defense. Brogdon had a very rough night shooting the ball, finishing 2-for-14 from the floor. Syracuse eventually won 68-62.
The notion the Virginia defense could give up 47 points in a half would have been unthinkable to me, especially to an opponent that isn’t known for its offensive explosiveness. That’s one part of what makes this as heartbreaking a final eight loss as I can recall seeing.
The other thing that makes it heartbreaking is that there’s no guarantee Virginia will get back. When Duke blew a 17-point lead to Kentucky in 1998 in this same round, the Blue Devils already had a couple recent national championships and were established as a perennial power under Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe Bennett will do the same for UVA, but asking anyone to match what Coach K is done is a tall, if not impossible order.
What’s more likely is that Virginia will continue to be a steady, solid basketball team, but one that shows up anywhere from a 3-seed on a good year to an 8-9 seed off a rebuilding season. This is a school that takes academics seriously and it’s always hard to just reload at a place like this.
Duke has done it, but again, they have the greatest coach in the history of college basketball. North Carolina has done it, but they have academic scandals hidden underneath their pristine image. To be really clean and really good—at least year after year—is pretty rare in college athletics.
We know for a fact this was Brogdon’s last game. Even though the senior didn’t shoot well, he still rebounded and distributed, displaying the consistent effort that Virginia has given over these past three seasons that have seen them garner two 1-seeds and a 2-seed. Anyone can have a bad shooting night and it’s sad to see it happen to a kid who works so hard and plays the right way.
Bennett will be back and I hope I’m being overly pessimistic right now. I like him and I’ll root for him over anyone else in the ACC. But right now, I just have a bad feeling that his best chance at a Final Four went slipping through his fingers in Chicago.