Thanks to a 5-1 start to ACC play, the national buzz is once again starting to build around the Virginia men's basketball team. But Tony Bennett says his players know they can't get caught buying their own hype.
"We know the other side of the coin. So if these guys let anybody put them on a pedestal, that's a mistake," Bennett said Wednesday morning. "And anything that would enter in, to try to take away from the unity of the team, the direction we're going, has to be guarded against."
Bennett's team began the season ranked in both major college basketball polls -- the first time since 2001 the Cavaliers opened as a top 25 team -- but fell off the national radar after a 9-4 performance in non-conference play, punctuated by an 87-52 loss at Tennessee on December 30.
But almost a month later, Virginia is now sitting at 14-5 heading into Saturday's game at John Paul Jones Arena against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers rebounded from that Tennessee loss with a three-game winning streak to open ACC play. That streak was snapped by a 69-65 loss at Duke last week, but after back-to-back home wins, UVa is a win away from the program's best start in the conference since Ralph Sampson was a senior in 1983.
"Expectations. Buzz. That's all good when you're playing well. So that's just part of it; no problem there," Bennett said. "But what we do in practice, in preparation. What we do in the games. And really, the mindset of the team, I think, collectively, is the significant thing here."
UVa enters the weekend as one of just three teams in the ACC -- Syracuse (5-0) and Pittsburgh (5-1) are the others -- with fewer than two conference losses. On Saturday, the Cavaliers can complete a 3-0 homestand, in a league where Bennett says three-game winning streaks are tough to come by.
"You take it a game at a time. But boy, if you can get on a stretch or a string, you do it," he said.
"We've been fortunate to have these last couple of games at home. And hopefully we'll be ready to play," Bennett said. "But the league is at a place where I think every time out, most teams are capable of being successful, or being beaten. And that's the reality of the ACC this year, as you look at it. Everybody's got their inconsistencies, and you're just trying to keep going. But I think you have a chance every time out. Both ways. And that keeps you in a pretty humble spot."
Bennett goes into Saturday's game 5-3 against Virginia Tech in his time at UVa. But those five wins have come in the Cavaliers' last six meetings with the Tech, including their last three in a row.
Virginia Tech entered Wednesday night's game against Wake Forest in Blacksburg at 8-9 on the season (1-4 in the ACC), and winless since beating Maryland-Eastern Shore 82-66 on New Year's Eve.
"When you have youth, you see inconsistencies. But they've played good stretches of basketball," Bennett said of the Hokies. "And with us, you get to this stage when you're in early or mid-conference, you've just got to be as good as you can be. And keep your edge, and keep preparing the right way."