The long, sweet run is over and the ’Hoos are home—but talk about a season to remember.
Tony Bennett’s men’s basketball team secured its place in UVA history by finishing first in the ACC regular season and then rolling a winning streak into a conference tournament championship, ultimately trouncing Duke on March 16 in Greensboro. It’s a rare dual achievement; only eight teams in conference history have won the season outright and won the tournament. It was UVA’s first ACC championship in 38 years, and top-scoring darling Joe Harris won tournament MVP.
Hours later, there was more to celebrate: The team scored a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cavs became the ACC’s great orange hope as other conference teams fell away in early upsets, but the end of the road came in a down-to-the-buzzer Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden last Friday night.
But from die-hard season ticketholders to starry-eyed UVA first-years, fans have a lot to be happy about. For some, this year’s team was a reason to return to the fold.
Todd Hawkins, now co-owner of Builder Fish custom builders, was a big fan growing up through the post-1976 championship era. Then he covered the team as a sports anchor for NBC29 from 1988 to 1997, but “drifted away through what I call the ‘stinky years.’”
But he was sucked back into “the vortex of Cavalier basketball,” he said, when he casually flipped on the TV to catch a UVA-Florida State game in January. He was expecting his old favorites to lose. They dominated.
“I ended up watching every game after it to the point that I was getting nervous before the games, like when I was a kid,” he said. After the big wins, “I had to go outside and split wood just to calm down.”
Part of the joy of the season was that the team was so easy to root for, he said—likeable kids playing hard for a coach who’s sticking to a vision. Hawkins said he has high hopes for years to come.
“I think Virginia will reload,” he said. “They have enough of a foundation that they’ve turned a corner.”
What about you? Share your fan story and your favorite moments from the season with us in the comments below.