CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Back in the same building where Virginia made history as the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, Tony Bennett says the upset loss to UMBC is something that should be carried forward in the program, not ignored or left in the past.
"I think you have to address it," Bennett told CBS Sports on Wednesday. "If you act like it was just a fluke and it didn't happen, first, it's going to be put in your face constantly throughout the year. Then, if you're fortunate to get to an NCAA Tournament, whoever you play it's going to be there. I don't think you can overanalyze it and stay there forever, but there's incredible wisdom that happened from it, and it's what you do with it that matters. Not the fact that it happened, because it is now part of our story."
But given the immense pressure already on Bennett, a three-time national Coach of the Year, to succeed at the highest level, the historic defeat can also be seen as freeing. Bennett has carried the "best coach not to make a Final Four" status around as his Wahoos teams has averaged 28.6 wins across the last five years, claiming three ACC regular season crowns. Virginia used to enter the NCAA Tournament with all the Final Four questions, but the stunning loss to the Retrievers revealed the most cruel way to have your heart broken.
If Bennett and Virginia can learn from that heartbreak, knowing that both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows are never too far away, it changes the approach, and the conversation inside the program when it comes tournament time.
"If our young men can realize [that], there's incredible growth in this," he said. "Hopefully, it makes us a better team, and we'll be strengthened by the blow that cut us down. We were praised at the highest level, we were criticized, and I think you realize just how fleeting both of them are. So it allows you to get after it, and grow from it. Absolutely, [we're] definitely using it. Owning it."
On the court, Bennett has plenty of reasons to be excited about his team, starting with the veterans who played through the highs of 31 wins and experienced the lows of that loss. The 2019 campaign could set up to be a big one for Kyle Guy, who Bennett mentioned alongside the likes of Joe Harris and Klay Thompson (whom he coached) as well as J.J. Reddick because of his ability to heat up and change the face of a game with his fast moment off a screen and quick release.
"He came in as a talented young man that was slight, and he's still slight but he's gotten physically stronger. He's not going to win a Mr. Universe body building competition but he is stronger," Bennett said of Guy. "He's always been a little more complete than people think. They think, 'Oh, he can just shoot.' Well, he can move and shoot; he can one-dribble shot, he can get to the lane, and he seems to let the game come to him."
Guy is just one piece, though Deandre Hunter might be the best NBA talent on this roster and Ty Jerome is looking for another step forward after emerging as one of the more consistent players in the lineup a year ago. That core is going to be a big part of setting the tone for the redemption run in 2019, where Bennett hopes that owning that loss will make them stronger in the long run.
Coach K has high hopes for Zion Williamson
There really aren't that many true stars in college basketball anymore. Trae Young became one once the season began with his white-hot start to the year, but for the most part, we don't start the season with names that recognizable to the average sports fan. That's not the case with Duke freshman Zion Williamson. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was sharp to mention on Wednesday that there aren't many one-name stars, and if you say "Zion" to basketball fans, visions of highlight reel dunks and blocks immediately are going to come to mind.
Williamson's teammates discussed what it was like to guard the YouTube star, mentioning that they were "surprised at a what a graceful athlete he is," complimenting his footwork, body control and skill set. Given the hype around Williamson coming out of high school, the descriptions from inside Duke aren't lining up with "highlight reel player" as much as "one of the best players on the team."
"I think people are amazed, really, because they saw all the dunking, and they saw dunks last night [in an exhibition game against Virginia Union], too," Krzyzewski said. "But he can defend. He can improve in every way. He's going to be an outstanding player for us for the one year, and I think he's going to be -- he has a chance of being even an NBA All-Star."
Louisville set to undergo a stylistic makeover
A makeover is coming for Louisville basketball. For years, the Cardinals under Rick Pitino relied on an aggressive defense that was the anchor to the team's success. Every season from 2011-17, Louisville had one of the 10 most efficient defenses in the country, flipping turnovers and missed baskets into quick points at the other end. At Xavier, Mack had one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. it's going to be quite a shock to some to see the Cards playing with four out and one in, and perhaps an even bigger shock to see the way the offense is clicking in Mack's system.
One player who is set to benefit from this change is V.J. King. As a sophomore, King was a solid player in the rotation, but he finished with double-digit scoring just 13 times in 36 games. While a direct comparison is unfair to both parties it's not too much to suggest that King's role in the offense can present some of the same opportunities afforded to All-Big East superstar Trevon Bluiett at Xavier.
The small ball talk is back at North Carolina
An abundance of talent at guard and wing has Roy Williams once again considering small-ball lineups that have 6-foot-7 forward Luke Maye at center. Williams has long relied on at least one, and often two prominent post players in the starting lineup. The big question regarding North Carolina's ceiling this season is whether that small ball lineup is a weapon to be deployed to create matchup issues or a part of this teams identity. Williams said that Sterling Manley, at 6-foot-11, is playing bigger, but in classic Roy fashion, noted that he "still wants him to work about 7,433 times harder."
In total, Williams has about four different players he's looking to in order to solidify the post position. Manley, Walker Miller, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman are all competing for that primary role.
"Somebody needs to step up and say, 'Hey, I can do this,' and not only say it but do it, prove it to us out on the court. If one of those guys steps up and proves it to us on the court, I will be more comfortable," Williams said. "I would like for one of those guys to step forward, or all of them collectively. It's hard to go in a game and say which guys will do it tonight? You give player A, B, C and D all a chance, and A, B and C stink it up, by the time D gets in there, it's too late sometimes."
Being able to play small helped North Carolina field a top-10 offense, win 25 games and make it all the way to the ACC Tournament final against Virginia. But when the Tar Heels ran into Texas A&M and all that size in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the game got out of hand quickly and it was one of those times where any adjustments were too late.