Reece Beekman, new-look Virginia take aim at Tarleton State

The last time Virginia was unranked to begin a campaign, the Cavaliers finished the regular season at No. 1.

That was 2017-18, which ended with a 31-3 record as well as a historic first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Tony Bennett begins his 15th season in Charlottesville — his squad tied for sixth among “others receiving votes” in the Associated Press preseason poll — when Virginia hosts Tarleton State and coach Billy Gillispie on Monday.

“None of that stuff really matters because it’s going to be what you do, not what anyone says, so we’ll have to prove it,” Bennett said. “It’s a little bit of a reset for us, but we’re trying to build it.”

Last season’s squad went 25-8 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title but suffered another first-round flameout in March as a No. 4 seed.

The current Cavaliers, with 10 new faces on the roster, were picked to finish fourth in the ACC preseason poll.

Reece Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, is back for a fourth season. Transfers include Dante Harris (Georgetown) and Jake Groves (Oklahoma) and the freshman class features four-star recruits Blake Buchanan and Elijah Gertrude.

“There’s some excitement. We’ve looked good at times, we’ve looked bad at times,” Bennett said. “I like this team because the core, if all goes right, will stay together for the next two or three years, and that’s important.”

Gillispie, the former Kentucky, Texas A&M and Texas Tech coach, is in his fourth season with the Texans. They were picked to finish sixth in the Western Athletic Conference preseason poll.

Tarleton State went 17-17 last season, its best record since reclassifying to Division I in 2020-21, and earned its first-ever postseason bid (College Basketball Invitational).

The Texans’ non-conference schedule also includes a trip to No. 9 Tennessee on Dec. 21.

“Since we’ve been Division I, no one has played a tougher schedule than we have,” Gillispie said. “The games are tough but the players love playing a demanding schedule and the exposure the games have brought to Tarleton has been immeasurable.”