Shock and disbelief were carved onto the faces of the Virginia Cavaliers as they walked off the court from their lone NCAA Tournament game in March 2018.
The top-seeded Cavaliers had just lost, as is the case for 67 of the 68 teams that enter the big dance. But their loss was different. Their loss was unprecedented.
They had just entered the record books for all the wrong reasons. The 2018 Cavaliers became the first-ever No. 1 seed to be upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to a No. 16 seed.
The greatest upset in college basketball history belongs to the UMBC Retrievers for their manhandling of Virginia that day. However, that unlikely victory – as incredible and monumental the feat was – is not what is highlighted today.
That UMBC victory sparked what would become a great comeback year for Virginia. A year later, the Cavaliers would squash their demons and take home the national championship.
Both years were exceptionally dominant for Virginia. The former being the No. 1 overall seed of the tournament. Combined their records were 60-5 excluding their NCAA Tournament games. To produce such an incredible mark, they rode on the back of their intimidating defense to get there. In 2018 they were fifth in adjusted defense according to KenPom. That rose to first the year that they won it.
With such a good defense, it left some holes on their offense. Sure, they held opponents to only 53 points but they did not muster much better on the other end of the court. Their offense was a problem and it cost them by scoring only 54 to UMBC.
Nothing changed for Virginia the following season. Their identity – a slower pace, defense-first mindset that many regarded as the sole reason for their loss to UMBC – did not waiver. Head coach Tony Bennett just had them improve in every aspect of their game.
Most importantly, though, they got all their key figures to return. DeAndre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome were all there to avenge the loss.
It made the celebration for the Cavaliers so much more triumphant. It was easy to feel the relief that Hunter exhaled as he chucked the basketball to the rafters as the final seconds in the national championship game ticked away. A story tale ending was complete. One that was filled with chills and narratives that the best storytellers in Hollywood could not script.