Bennett’s Cavaliers make Elite Eight for first time since 1995

Coach Tony Bennett takes his Cavs to Elite Eight. Photo: Jack Looney Coach Tony Bennett takes his Cavs to Elite Eight. Photo: Jack Looney

With a commanding win over No. 4-seed Iowa State, head Coach Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers will advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995. This marks the furthest postseason appearance during Bennett’s era at UVA.

An 84-71 win propelled the Cavaliers past the Cyclones on Friday’s game, with senior Anthony Gill scoring 23 points to lead the team to victory. The team was unable to control Iowa State leading scorer Georges Niang, who came away with 30 points and 8 rebounds, but key contributions from seniors Mike Tobey and Malcolm Brogdon helped seal Virginia’s success, putting up 18 and 12 points respectively.

In Virginia’s past two NCAA appearances, Bennett led the Cavaliers to one Sweet 16 and one second round exit, both years falling to Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans.  But with the Spartans knocked off early this year by 15-seed Middle Tennessee, Virginia will take on No. 10-seed ACC opponent Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

Second-year student Alex Andrews, who watches the Cavaliers religiously, says that Virginia’s impressive Sweet 16 win over Iowa State is a promising sign for a team that has struggled with postseason play in the past.

“It was really encouraging to see such a dominant start to the game, as well as a strong finish,” Andrews says. “There’s something special about these Hoos.”

Virginia was the third No. 1 seed to advance to the Elite Eight, following Oregon and Kansas, and was joined later that night by final 1-seed North Carolina. Of all four top seeds in the Elite Eight, the Cavaliers are up against the lowest-ranked team, with North Carolina up against 6th-seeded Notre Dame. Oregon and Kansas were both felled by 2-seeds Oklahoma and Villanova, respectively, on Saturday.

In addition to the advantage the Cavaliers gain from playing a lower-ranked team, Virginia also squared off against Syracuse earlier this season, beating them in conference play by a score of 73-65. While upsets are not uncommon in March Madness, Andrews feels confident in Bennett’s team going forward in the tournament.

“I have a lot of faith in this Virginia team. They have the most dominant defense in all of basketball, and score enough to take down even the strongest of offenses. I like their chances,” Andrews says.

Should the Cavaliers defeat Syracuse this weekend, they’ll stay on familiar ground, taking on either ACC foe North Carolina or Notre Dame in the Final Four. While Bennett’s team won both of their regular season matches against Notre Dame and North Carolina, Virginia fell to UNC in the championship game of the ACC tournament, leaving a difficult road ahead for the Cavs.

The Cavaliers remain at the United Center in Chicago for the Elite Eight, where they will tip off against the Syracuse Orange at 6:09pm tonight.