The upstart Virginia Cavaliers have quietly risen to prominence in college basketball slaying all comers in the ACC (with the exception of Duke who needed a last second miracle).  With a victory over 4th ranked Syracuse, the Wahoos claimed their first conference title since the 1981-82 season, their sixth in school history. 

 Looking at its roster it is hard to single out any individual player who is the reason for the school’s success.  Head Coach Tony Bennett’s trademark defense has been the team’s calling card which is tops in the nation allowing only 54.7 points per game.  It is quite different than the last team who cut down the nets 33 years ago, led by the greatest player in the school's history, the 7’4” Ralph Sampson.

In literal and figurative terms, Ralph Sampson was college basketball’s biggest star in the early 1980’s.  A three-time national Player of the Year, Sampson set school records for rebounds, blocked shots, and field goal percentage.  Legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach said he had the quickness, smarts, and reactions to be the next Bill Russell.  He was blessed with the athleticism of a swingman, and on defense served as the world’ tallest goalie.  A proud and very sensitive man who was never truly comfortable with the weight of being “the man.”  Even with his share of critics who complained that he didn’t possess the necessary post game to be a dominant player, Ralph continued to showcase his unique skills averaging 16.9 points and 11.4 rebounds in his four seasons in Charlottesville.  During that span the Cavs went 112-23 including and NIT title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1982.

With its recent success, Virginia seems poised to return to basketball’s conversation of elite programs with a young nucleus, a budding superstar of a coach, and a projected recruiting class that will be sure to add even more intriguing pieces based on its new found publicity.  If Virginia really is who we think they are, the next few years in the ACC will be pretty special.  Already stacked with Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and incoming Louisville, this may ultimately go down as the greatest conference of teams in any sport in the history of college athletics.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s just enjoy what’s directly in front of us and get ready to fill out our office pool brackets to embrace the Madness.

With its recent success, Virginia seems poised to return to basketball’s conversation of elite programs with a young nucleus, a budding superstar of a coach, and a projected recruiting class that will be sure to add even more intriguing pieces based on its new found publicity.  If Virginia really is who we think they are, the next few years in the ACC will be pretty special.  Already stacked with Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and incoming Louisville, this may ultimately go down as the greatest conference of teams in any sport in the history of college athletics.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s just enjoy what’s directly in front of us and get ready to fill out our office pool brackets to embrace the Madness.