NEWS- Making history? 2007 Cavs rival UVA greats

With last Friday's victory over arch rival Virginia Tech, the UVA men's basketball team not only captured at least a share of the ACC regular season title, but they also upped their overall record to 20-8, the first time they've reached the 20-win mark since the 2000-01 season. 

That team, under the tutelage of Pete Gillen, reached a regular season record of 20-7 when Donald Hand ran the offense, Keith Friel couldn't miss from outside, and Travis Watson controlled the middle. That season just so happens to be the last time the ‘Hoos made the NCAA Tournament, which they're almost certain to do again this year when the NCAA Selection Committee (of which UVA athletic director Craig Littlepage is a member) announces the 65 teams on Sunday, March 11.

For Mac McDonald, who's been courtside as radio play-by-play announcer for 16 years, this year's team is special.

"It has such a variety of personalities that have all meshed together," he says. "Everyone thinks Virginia is just J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary, and it certainly helps to have a pair of veteran guards that good and who have played a million games together, but everyone on this team has carved their little niche and do all the little things." 

But a great regular season does not necessarily a great post-season make. The ‘00-'01 Cavs fell to Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament and then found themselves on the short end of a March Madness upset, losing to Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAAs in an 86-85 heartbreaker.

With the disappointing 78-72 loss to Wake Forest Saturday, the 'Hoos fell short of the regular season win total of the Jeff Jones-coached 1994-95 team (21-7), a squad that enjoyed considerably greater success in March. With future NBA point guard Cory Alexander handling the ball, Curtis Staples shooting out the lights, and the duo of big men Junior Burrough and Jason Williford on the inside, those Cavs made it all the way to the "Elite Eight" round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Arkansas in the Midwest Regional Final, 68-61.

As far as McDonald is concerned, this year's squad would have a hard time if they squared off with that '95 team. 

"They had a great point guard in Cory Alexander like we have with Sean," he says, "but they had an all-ACC big man with Junior Burrough, and you just can't compare anyone on this year's team to him."

Another big fan is former Cavalier coach Terry Holland, now athletics director at East Carolina University. 

"I have really enjoyed watching this UVA team from afar," Holland says. "They've had their share of adversity, but they've shown themselves to be resilient both with comebacks during a game, like with Arizona, as well as payback for earlier defeats, like the Virginia Tech results.

"They've continued to improve defensively as well as finding other scoring opportunities to complement the truly unbelievable guard play from Reynolds and Singletary," Holland adds.

But how do this year's Cavaliers match up to those two UVA teams that made it to the Final Four? Not too shabbily. The 1983-84 Cavs (the first season without Ralph Sampson) rode the ballhandling of Rick Carlisle (currently coach of the NBA's Indiana Pacers) and Othell Wilson, and the broad shoulders of Olden Polynice to a so-so regular season record of 17-10 and a first round loss in the ACC Tournament to Wake.

As McDonald recalls, at that point, there was no joy in C-Ville.

"Everyone thought the season was over," he says. "People were saying we shouldn't even be in the [NCAA] Tournament."

But the ‘Hoos turned up the gas in that year's Big Dance, getting to the Elite Eight before vanquishing a Bobby Knight-coached Indiana team to reach the Final Four. That's where the magic run ended when they lost 49-47 in overtime to the fabled University of Houston squad that featured future NBA superstar Hakeem Olajuwon (who went on to be one half of the Houston Rockets' "Twin Towers" with Sampson). [The print edition contained incorrect information about the 1984 Indiana and Houston teams. It has been corrected in this online edition.]

McDonald says this year's team might have some similar tricks up its sleeve.

"The '84 team might be fairly close to this one," he says. "Like this year, the '84 team had pretty good players with nowhere near the talent that a [North] Carolina or an Indiana had, but they had a lot of heart, they played great defense, and they shot well."

Holland agrees. This year's Cavs "remind me most of the '88-'89 UVA team with great perimeter play from Richard Morgan, Bryant Stith, and John Crotty that lost in the Regional Finals to eventual champion, Michigan," he says. "Also, their perimeter play is somewhat similar to the '84 Final Four team with Rick Carlisle, Othell Wilson, Jim Miller, Tim Mullen, and Ricky Stokes."

But no Virginia team before or since has achieved the dominance of Holland's 1980-81 Cavaliers. With second-year Sampson towering over the court at 74 and a supporting cast that included guards Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker, the ‘Hoos lost only to Notre Dame and Wake Forest on their way to a 24-2 regular season. The winning ways carried over to the NCAAs, where they defeated Villanova, Tennessee, and BYU, only to lose to despised ACC rival North Carolina in the Final Four by a score of 78-65.

So what are today's Cavaliers going to have to do to get to the lofty post-season heights of the storied teams of yore?

"We have to be almost perfect," says McDonald. "We have to play great defense, we have to make a fair amount of three-pointers, and we can't afford any injuries, especially with the guards."

The 'Hoos begin their march on March on Friday, March 9 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament in Tampa. 

The Cavaliers hope to soar to new heights in this year's NCAA Tournament.