Virginia Basketball: Have Cavaliers Ever Won NCAA Tournament?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 05: The Virginia Cavaliers huddle during practice prior to the 2019 NCAA men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 5, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team is trying to advance to the national championship game on Saturday night. If they do win two more games and claim a national title, will it be the program’s first?

Virginia’s History in the NCAA Tournament

Virginia’s men’s basketball program has 114 seasons of history, going all the way back to the 1905-06 campaign. Despite over a century of games that have been played, the program’s NCAA tournament history is rather recent in comparison.

The Cavaliers didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time until the 1975-76 season when Virginia went 18-12 overall. It was head coach Terry Holland’s second season and the Cavaliers made an early exit, losing their first-ever NCAA tournament game. Virginia did finish 18th in the final Associated Press poll that year. It was a sign of better things to come.

After a four-year hiatus from the tournament, Holland built what was arguably his best Virginia team for the 1980-81 season. Led by future Basketball Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson, the Cavaliers were a one seed in their region for the first time in program history. They went on to not only win their first NCAA tournament game that season but made it all the way to the Final Four before being ousted by North Carolina.

1981 NCAA Final Four – Virginia vs North CarolinaSecond semifinal of the 1981 NCAA Final Four, featuring Ralph Sampson, James Worthy and Al Wood.2008-08-28T07:34:54.000Z

That success would soon be replicated. Over the next two seasons, Holland’s teams repeated as top seeds in their regions. Those teams made the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight before exiting.

Holland’s team then returned to the Final Four in the 1983-1984 season, this time as a seven seed. In 1984 the obstacle to the Cavaliers reaching the national championship game was Houston, and yet again that obstacle proved too formidable.

1984 NCAA Basketball National Semi-Final – Virginia vs HoustonNCAA Vault – Relive history by team, year, game or moment using the new interactive play-by-play timeline – – 1984 NCAA Div. I Men's Basketball National Semi-Final, Virginia vs Houston2014-02-27T10:15:17.000Z

Over the 34 completed seasons since, Virginia has been selected for the tournament 17 times. In three more of those instances besides the current season, it did so as a top seed in its region. The lowest it has been seeded in those 17 instances was tenth.

Success in those 17 seasons has been a mixed bag. Six of those teams failed to make it out of the first round, six were eliminated in the round of 32, two lost in the Sweet 16 and the other three lost in the Elite Eight.

Although the Cavaliers have never won an NCAA tournament championship the program isn’t devoid of any tourney hardware.

Virginia’s Two National Championships

The Cavaliers do have two national tournament titles to their credit. The 1979-80 and 1991-92 Virginia teams both won the NIT title. Holland coached the earlier team, with Jeff Jones leading the Cavaliers to the later NIT championship.

In both seasons, a Cavalier was the NIT MVP. Virginia center Ralph Sampson claimed that honor in 1980 and Cavaliers guard Bryant Stith won the award in 1992.

If the Cavaliers are able to defeat Auburn and advance to the national championship game, it will be a first for the program. Even if that doesn’t occur, the 2018-19 team has put itself in elite company in the program’s history by reaching a national semifinal.