If you're looking for schools that have won more games than Virginia basketball the last two years, it's going to be a short list. With 30 victories each of the last two seasons, Virginia has won more games than North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State and UConn.
The incredible two-year run in the toughest conference in America has vaulted Virginia into the national conversation, but it's something of a bittersweet achievement for 'Hoos fans because of the familiar way the story continues to end. After being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed each of the last two seasons by Michigan State -- first in the Sweet 16, then in the round of 32 -- Virginia is ready for regular season success to finally translate to a deep tournament run.
In a way, it feels like Virginia has been building towards this season. The starting backcourt of London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon is entering its third year together, Anthony Gill is ready to solidify his status as one of the better frontcourt players in the country after a breakout junior season, and the defense is a fully-realized beast at this point.
Virginia weathered the loss of Joe Harris last season and now they will need to do the same thing with Justin Anderson. Anderson was Virginia's best two-way player last year, a terrific perimeter defender whose development into a quality three-point shooter made him a first round NBA draft pick. There isn't one player on Virginia's roster who will be tasked with filling Anderson's void, but rather a group of wings coach Tony Bennett is hoping can combine to replace his production.
This is the last opportunity for the current core to make the tournament run they've always been flirting with, before what looks like Bennett's best recruiting class yet arrives in 2016. The ACC is loaded again, but Bennett has turned Virginia into a team no one wants to play.
The 'Hoos might not have the five-star recruits that define Duke and North Carolina, but they're nearly perfect defensively and have experience all over the roster. There's enough talent here to reach the Final Four. Now it's up to the players to prove a methodical offense and pristine defense is a formula that can win games in March.
Get familiar with the packline defense if you aren't already, because Tony Bennett and Arizona's Sean Miller are making it the most effective defensive scheme in college basketball.
Virginia's defense has been remarkably consistent over the last four years. The 'Hoos have finished No. 6, No. 24 and No. 5 in KenPom's defensive efficiency standings during that time before finishing No. 1 last season. Just ask a quality Harvard team what it's like to go against Bennett's group: in a game last year, the Crimson shot five percent in the first half.
Virginia is going to be a great defensive team again, that isn't even up for debate. It is possible that the defense regresses a bit, though, after losing their top perimeter defender in Anderson and their best interior defender in Darion Atkins. Atkins was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a buzzsaw at the rim. Is this still the best defense in the country with Mike Tobey or Gill manning what looks like a talented frontcourt but a group that's thin on depth?
One of the wings is going to need to step up for Virginia, and that player could be sophomore Marial Shayok. He has long arms and is a great athlete. If he increases the volume of his three-point attempts while maintaining his efficiency from last year (38 percent), Virginia will have a lot more flexibility to play small-ball lineups with Gill at the five as a change-of-pace look.
Virginia moves at a glacier's speed on offense, but you already knew that. Last season, the Cavaliers were No. 349 in KenPom's adjusted tempo standings ... out of 351 teams.
A slow offense doesn't necessarily indicate a bad offense, though. If anything, Virginia just needs to be efficient with its possessions. This has been a top 25 offense each of the last two years, but it's still one with an obvious deficiency: Virginia needs to be a more prolific outside shooting team, both in terms of attempts and makes.
Last season Virginia ranked No. 318 in the country in terms of percentage of attempts that were from three. Anderson was their most reliable outside shooter at 45.2 percent, and now he'll be taking those shots for the Dallas Mavericks.
Virginia's biggest hope is that Perrantes finds the stroke he showed his freshman year (43.7 percent from deep) rather than his sophomore year (31.6). Brogdon is a terrific all-around player, but he could stand to improve his three-point shooting as well after hitting a respectable 34.4 percent last year.
Nolte is supposed to be the shooter on this roster, but he only hit 27.6 percent of his threes last year.
Virginia's offense is already efficient, now it just needs to be more dynamic. Making threes is the best way to achieve that.