CDA News’ look at the NCAA tournament continues with the No. 5 seed in the East Regional, the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia is making its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament under coach Tony Bennett after finishing sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and losing to Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinals. Virginia comes in with a record of 22-10 and will open on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., where it will play the East’s No. 12 seed, the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks.
How they got here: UVA got to this point the same way that it usually gets to this point: by riding its nasty defense and patient style of play. If you like shootouts and NBA-style basketball, Virginia is not the team for you. The Cavaliers are actually ranked 312th in the nation in points per game with 66.6, a number that won’t win you many games if you can’t play on the other end. However, defense has always been Bennett’s specialty. Virginia held North Carolina to just 43 points on Feb. 27, so there’s no question that it can hold down any offense that it comes across.
Reasons for optimism: That Virginia Cavaliers defense actually ranks first in the nation, so what they did to the Tar Heels was no fluke. UVA held nine ACC opponents under 60 points in a league that is not exactly lacking in offense. Virginia will also be brimming with confidence should they meet Villanova in the regional semifinals, as the Cavaliers have already played the Wildcats in Philadelphia and fell by just two points, priming them for revenge. With London Perrantes’ experience leading their charge, Virginia has several pieces in place.
Reasons for concern: One of those pieces that’s missing for the Virginia Cavaliers is offense. As was mentioned earlier, there are times when Virginia simply cannot score. Yes, the Wahoos had nine games in the ACC where they held opponents under 60, but they also had six ACC contests in which they themselves failed to break 60, including a home overtime loss to Miami where they scored just 48 points. London Perrantes has shouldered the load, but without Malcolm Brogdon around, Virginia’s offense is often stuck in neutral. There’s also the fact that UVA finished 4-5, with three of their wins coming against teams who didn’t come close to the NCAA tournament.
Outlook: Virginia is a difficult team to figure out given both what it does well and its matchup. North Carolina-Wilmington does push the basketball, is flush with experience and plays a style similar to Louisville, normally a recipe for disaster for a higher seed. Then again, the Virginia Cavaliers did beat Louisville twice, so they know how to handle Louisville-like tactics. If Virginia can get past Wilmington, they have all the pieces in place to make a run. But they could just as easily lose Thursday to a very good opponent. Be careful with the Cavaliers.
Readers, do you expect Virginia to make a run? Can they find their form and ride their defense? Or will their offensive shortcomings be the Cavs’ downfall? Sound off in the comments below!
Commentary by Dan Angell