Virginia suffered an embarrassing early loss in the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night.

That also happened in 2023, 2021, 2018, 2017 and 2015. This time, it was at the hands of a good-but-not-great Colorado State team as part of the First Four round in Dayton. Virginia managed just 14 points before halftime and eventually lost 67-42.

The Cavaliers struggled from the field as they usually do, hitting just 25% of their field goal attempts and 17.6% of their 3-point tries.

Another year, but the same old story for Virginia in March.

Setting aside whether or not Virginia should have made the Tournament in the first place (what’s done is done), the way the Cavaliers finished this season — the way it finishes most seasons — should warrant serious conversations Charlottesville this offseason.

There’s an identifiable point in Virginia’s schedule where its offense fell off a cliff. UVA scored 80 points in a win over Florida State on Feb. 10. At that point, UVA had won 8 straight games and looked like legitimate contenders atop the ACC. But after that win, something changed — UVA finished just 4-6 overall and failed to score 50 points in 5 of those 10 games.

Virginia runs a notoriously-slow-paced offense, but even on a possession-by-possession basis, the Cavs were abysmal. After adjusting for opponent and tempo, UVA’s offense ranks 309th nationally over that span per BartTorvik’s model. From the beginning of the season through that win in Tallahassee on Feb. 10, Virginia’s offense ranked 130th nationally. That’s still bad for a NCAA Tournament-quality team from the ACC, but it would have been workable given UVA’s hyper-elite defensive upside.

Instead, Virginia’s offense collapsed — again. After the game, Tony Bennett spoke about what changed following that win over FSU a little under 6 weeks ago:

I think teams started really zoning off, gapping up on some guys and just making it so hard for Reece and Isaac. They kind of face-guarded, zoned off. And I want to say they got a little bit of a blueprint on how to bother us.

And we tried to come up with some different things. And I thought we played good ball against NC State and even BC and Georgia Tech at the end. But a lot of it was predicated; we needed to make some shots, and the free throws, but we had to hit some shots just to give us a chance.

But it was hard because of how it was jammed in the lane, zoned off of guys and really face guarding or making it difficult on the others. And I think that kind of started happening as people saw, well, here’s a way to maybe make it real challenging on us.

There’s a lot to break down from that quote, but here’s the bottom-line: Virginia is too easy to guard. Virginia has failed over and over again in high-leverage games because of it.

That’s the fault of both the system and the personnel. They’re especially too easy to guard when they don’t prioritize transition basketball (352nd in offensive tempo per KenPom) and don’t shoot high-value shots (355th in rim & 3-point attempt rate this year, per ShotQuality).

When UVA was consistently advancing in the postseason roughly a decade ago, its personnel was able to overcome the flaws of the system. They were routinely putting players into the NBA. Early on, it was players like Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon. When Virginia won the national championship in 2019, it had 3 NBA Draft picks that summer (De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy). Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Braxton Key also got NBA looks off of that team.

But the Virginia-to-NBA pipeline has dried up considerably since that run to the national title. Trey Murphy III went in the first round of the 2021 draft and is considered a high-level role player in the NBA, but he had a muted impact at Virginia (as a senior, he had the 7th-highest usage rate amongst players who were on the court for at least 200 minutes). Ryan Dunn is poised to become UVA’s first NBA Draft selection since Murphy. But Dunn has even less of an impact on the offensive end of the floor.

Virginia’s 2019 national championship should not be discounted or ignored. But it is worth considering whether or not that is a repeatable result under Bennett’s current offensive philosophy.

The results for Bennett in the NCAA Tournament would point toward the answer being ‘no.’ According to BartTorvik’s PASE (performance against seed expectation) metric, no coach has done less with more than Bennett since 2000. He ranks dead last amongst all coaches who have made the NCAA Tournament since 2000 in PASE with -7.7. That means his teams have won 7.7 fewer games than expected based on seeding. He’s received a top-2 seed 5 times and yet is just 16-10 across all his NCAA Tournament appearances (excluding play-in games)

Bennett didn’t guarantee change is coming to his offensive system, but he did acknowledge that he needs to consider making some adjustments.

“I always have to examine our ability to advance,” Bennett said after the game. “We’ve raised the bar really high here. We’ve qualified for this tournament, which is not an easy thing. We’ve done well. But it’s stung to get to this point and not advance. So, of course, we’ve got to keep adding quality players. We’ve got to look at things, certainly, from a system standpoint, absolutely.

“But you know, it’s something that I’ll always look in the mirror after every year and say, okay, what adjustments. We gotta get the right pieces in place. So I think it’s probably both, to be honest.”

Things are getting worse at Virginia, not better. Either the personnel or the philosophy has to change if results are going to improve. Bennett would surely prefer to upgrade personnel over changing his system, but how realistic is that in this era of college basketball where players are significantly less likely to stick around for multiple years? Will Virginia ever have 6 NBA players (and 2 first-round picks) on the same team again like they did in 2019?

Bennett would do right by the program by answering those questions honestly and making plans to adjust accordingly for next season and beyond.