CHARLOTTESVILLE — After leading the Virginia men’s basketball team to its first outright ACC regular season title since 1981, Tony Bennett was named the league’s coach of the year Tuesday by media members who cover the conference.
Bennett shepherded the sixth-ranked Cavaliers to a 25-6 record during the regular season, including 13 straight wins and a 16-2 mark during ACC play that tied the record for conference wins in a season. Virginia was picked to finish fourth in the ACC’s preseason media poll.
Bennett received 68 of the 77 votes in the ACC coach of the year poll, beating out North Carolina’s Roy Williams. Virginia is 101-59 overall since Bennett took over the program before the 2009-10 season, one of three teams in the country to improve its win total in each of the past five years.
“It’s as much a reflection of the players, the staff, and the year we had,” Bennett said during a news conference before practice at John Paul Jones Arena. “Certainly appreciate it, but know sometimes you can do a better coaching job when your record’s not as good. I know it’s fleeting, but thankful without a doubt. Hopefully we’ll have a few more of those because that means we’re having good years.”
Virginia enters this week’s ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., as the top seed and will face the winner of Thursday’s second-round contest between No. 8 seed Maryland and No. 9 Florida State on Friday in the quarterfinals.
The Cavaliers began the season ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll for the first time in more than a decade but stumbled to a 9-4 mark during nonconference play. The low point came on Dec. 30 when Virginia lost at Tennessee by 35 points, a defeat that prompted Bennett to alter his approach.
He changed the team’s offense to create more structure and shortened the rotation. He also re-inserted freshman point guard London Perrantes into the starting lineup, a move that allowed leading scorerMalcolm Brogdon to play off the ball more.
Virginia remained one of the nation’s premier defensive teams, allowing an ACC-low 55.4 points per game this year.
“It’s hard to play consistently 10 or 11 guys and keep them all happy. A rotation has to be shortened, and I think it kind of came to that,” Bennett said. “That was part of learning and I made some mistakes along the way, but it came together at the right time.”
Bennett is one of 10 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association national coach of the year award. He previously won that award in 2006-07 at Washington State, when he was also named the Pacific-10 coach of the year.
Bennett is the fourth Virginia head coach to win ACC coach of the year honors, joining Dave Leitao (2007), Terry Holland (1981, 1982) and Bill Gibson (1972).