An Atlantic Coast Conference team that wins 16 out of 18 in conference play, rolls through the conference tournament, and gets a number one seed in the Big Dance. Imagine if this team was the Duke Blue Devils or North Carolina Tar Heels. ESPN announcers probably would never stop gushing about them. However, for some reason the Virginia Cavaliers do not get the type of respect a one seed deserves.
Yes, I get that Virginia does not have the tradition or pageantry associated with its name like Duke and North Carolina, but they are a one seed after all! The Michigan State Spartans got hot in the Big Ten Tournament and are definitely a threat to come out of the East Region in a few weeks, but for so few “specialists” to pick the one seed is a slap in the face to Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers.
Simply put, the Cavaliers do not beat themselves. They are a defensive minded team that plays slow and methodically on the offensive end. It is not flashy, but the players all understand their roles and play to their strengths. No one averages more than 13 points per game or six rebounds per game. When looking at the statistics they are all extremely underwhelming, but what it does show is how team oriented Virginia is.
Joe Harris is the leader from the small forward position. His numbers are not eye popping; only averaging 11.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per contest. However, it’s the senior’s leadership role that is so invaluable. His teammates look to him in order to remain calm and level-headed. Then there is freshman point guard London Perrantes. He only averages 5.2 points per game, but what’s impressive is his assist to turnover ratio. He averages 3.36 assists for every turnover, meaning he takes great care of the ball. It is remarkable that a freshman can play like such an experienced player and make good decisions constantly. He’s the perfect example of a Virginia player not beating himself on the court.
Virginia has had a favorable schedule in the ACC, but winning the tournament championship should prove its legitimacy. A win over Duke on a neutral floor, Pittsburgh on the road, Syracuse at home, and North Carolina at home are all quality marks on a resume regardless of the location.
Bennett’s team is certainly not unbeatable and I know that. However, for some reason they do not get the respect a one seed deserves. The Wichita State Shockers have a different scenario because not everyone believes in them due to their insanely soft schedule. This argument does not hold true for Virginia. They have been battle tested throughout the year and have proved to be up for the challenge. Yes the Shockers beat the Tennessee Volunteers that beat up on the Virginia, but the transitive property cannot apply in this case.
Six losses this season, and only one of these has come in the past two months. Virginia is and should be the favorite to head to Dallas from the East. To me it almost seems like everyone picked Tom Izzo’s Spartans before the year, but once things were not going well they blamed it on all of the injuries. Then, once they won the Big Ten Tournament all of a sudden it was a reason to jump back on the bandwagon. Keep in mind Michigan State lost seven of its last 13 contests before the conference tournament.
I’m not trying to bash on Michigan State. Izzo is one of the top coaches in the country, and his team certainly has what it takes to win the NCAA Tournament. What I am trying to say though is that Virginia deserves more respect as the favorite. After all, if this were Duke they would probably be picked by every analyst. The bias of a traditional powerhouse against a team this is new to the scene is clearly on display.
Lucky for a bitter and angry soul like me, they actually do play the games. It is not all about projections and predictions, but rather who can prove their worth on the court. Virginia has done nothing but show what it can do over and over and over again, so my guess is they will just do it again.