We all love to root for the Cinderella teams during March Madness. They receive few opportunities to play on a big stage like the NCAA tournament and we relish in witnessing the unexpected and seeing the underdogs succeed, pulling off stunning upsets we can relive over and over again for the years to come. But the main story dominating the headlines as of late has been Virginia’s incredible run en route to winning it all. While it may seem strange to refer to Virginia as a Cinderella team since they were a 1 seed and lost only three games this past season, considering their overall track record, they should’ve been destined for failure.
To refresh your memory, last year Virginia became the first ever 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. It was a historic loss. My family and I lost our minds when the team lost by 20 points to the team the selection committee deemed the weakest. This wasn’t supposed to ever happen, even though we had always dreamed of it happening one day. Naturally, Virginia soon became the laughing stock of college basketball, with people referring to them as overrated, that they failed, that they could never win a championship — though they had surpassed expectations by dominating the ACC for the past several years over those highly favored such as Duke and UNC. Yet besides the 2018 tournament, Virginia isn’t exactly considered a fan-favorite team to begin with. The team doesn’t boast an array of future NBA lottery picks and maintains a specific style of play that relies heavily on suffocating defense and slow offense, which naturally aggravates frequent viewers who anticipate a fast-paced game and a slew of highlight plays. Simply put, many think they’re “boring.” Even though they have displayed near-perfect regular season records year after year and have been lauded by coaches and analysts alike for their consistency and determination, the players are haunted by the weight of endless expectations and naysayers claiming that they’re ruining the game.
When Virginia won the Big Dance Monday night, it not only felt inevitable, but in a way, almost necessary. It never mattered that Tony Bennett and his players couldn’t please everyone. They’ve built a strong program predicated on integrity, diligence, and the unrelenting will to succeed in the face of intense scrutiny and embarrassment, proving that the unique identity they have constructed is here to stay, and more importantly works, whether people take notice or not. Sure, Virginia will always be remembered as the first top seed to lose in the first round. And you can bet UMBC’s stunning victory will be broadcasted about a million times leading up to every March Madness.
But almost a year later, Virginia has flipped the narrative — now they can be considered the first 1 seed to win a national championship right after falling to a 16 seed! Maybe it’s not the outcome the program was hoping for, but the young players were able to get their confidence back by sticking to their principles and trusting each other. If anything, they were meant to win, especially after surviving by the skin of their teeth the final three games. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, a redemption story such as this is one to remember, and a reminder that a colossal failure can be immediately followed by the best triumph of all. Virginia can now take comfort in knowing they hold the title as the current national champions. Next year may be a different story, as they will yet again encounter scrutinization as the defending national champions, but that’s to be expected. And after the title game, rather than being pestered with questions such as “How does it feel to be the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed”, the players are instead asked “How does it feel to win the 2019 NCAA National Championship and prove everyone wrong?” Now that’s a comeback.