Virginia’s Tony Bennett is facing a stinging reality.
“We’ve got to improve our program,” the Cavaliers men’s basketball coach said after fifth-seeded Virginia lost 65-39 to No. 4 Florida .
Bennett cautioned all season that this year’s team was lacking the experience that fueled the Cavaliers to three straight high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. That inexperience came back to bite then in the tournament when the Cavaliers’ offense went missing and their defense followed suit in the blowout second-round tournament loss.
The good news for Bennett is that some help is already on campus.
The Cavaliers got solid, though inconsistent, contributions from freshmen guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy this year. They also had two other highly regarded freshmen — 6-foot-7 guard De’Andre Hunter and 6-11 forward Jay Huff — redshirt. Virginia will add left-handed shooting guard Marco Anthony as an incoming freshman next year.
Bennett’s teams have finished at or near the top nationally in scoring defense for several years running, though there has always seemed to be a lingering concern the Cavaliers’ deliberate offensive style could eventually come back to haunt them.
The approach has worked for the Cavaliers.
Virginia held North Carolina to 43 points — half its average — in a 10-point victory late in the season , but against Florida, 1 for 15 3-point shooting made the going impossible.
“We were desperate, trying to find ways to get points on the board,” Bennett said. “At times, we had to play four guards. … It was challenging. Fun? It was rewarding when it went well. It was always such a fine line.
“You saw when things aren’t going well against a team of this caliber in this setting, to get smacked like that is tough.”
This year also was unusual for Virginia because its lone senior was London Perrantes, a pass-first point guard pressed into being more aggressive offensively. As the Cavaliers best offensive threat, he often drew the opponents’ best defender.
“We have two guys that redshirted that I think in the future can help for sure, but we’ve just got to keep growing for sure,” Bennett said. He added the experience Jerome, Guy and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite gained during the regular season, the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament was “invaluable.”
Guy and Jerome each scored five points in a first-round victory against UNC-Wilmington, but both missed all four of their shots in the loss to the Gators, when Diakite made his first start and led the team with nine points.
“That will push those guys to work,” Bennett said while praising their effort. “That’s part of using that and figuring out ways to try to get a little more scoring, a little more shooting. All those things come into play.”
The coach said the key next year will be how his team approaches the offseason.
“Our returners have got some valuable experiences,” he said, “and we’ve got work to do. That’s obvious.”
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