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Virginia Cavaliers: the least-respected in NCAA


No, not just in the NCAA Tournament, we’re talking all 351 teams from all 32 conferences, but you won’t hear any cries of disrespect coming out of the Virginia Cavaliers‘ locker room. Their disrespect will just serve as added motivation, if any is even needed at this point.

The Cavaliers have won 18 of 19 games, are the top seed in the East Region, the ACC regular season and tournament champions, yet no one is talking about them as an Elite Eight team, let alone a national title contender.

According to ESPN, only 6.9 percent of brackets have the Wahoos advancing to the national championship game while just 3.8 percent have them winning it all. Their numbers pale in comparison to the Duke Blue Devils‘ (13.5%, 5.3%), a team that finished three games behind UVa in the ACC standings. Their numbers are low compared to the Kansas Jayhawks (9.9%, 5.5%) too, even though many knew stud freshman Joel Embiid would be a question mark for the first few games.

Last year the Gonzaga Bulldogs, as a 1-seed, were picked to advance to the national championship game in 10.2 percent of brackets and 5.6 percent had them cutting down the nets. A Gonzaga team that many thought was the biggest joke of a one-seed in tournament history got more votes of confidence than the ACC champ.

Maybe it’s because the Cavaliers had been to the tournament just once (a 71-45 loss to the 7-seed Florida Gators in 2012) in Bennett’s first four seasons in Charlottesville? Maybe it’s because you automatically associate the ACC with the Duke’s and Carolina’s of the world. Or maybe it’s because no one knows enough about the Cavaliers. Their time as just another member of the ACC is over — they’re one of the best, most complete basketball teams in the country.

How can everyone just continue to dismiss a team that has 30 wins on the year?

Is it because they’re perceived as a boring team to watch, because they don’t have an offense that likes to run-and-gun?

They’re 30-6 with a plus-10.9 point per game scoring margin thanks to suffocating defense that grinds opponents into submission. In their two tournament wins, they’ve allowed 59 and 60 points and have scored 70 and 78, respectively. Following their 78-60 win over 8-seed Memphis, sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon put it best, saying, ”…at some point, we’re going to wear them down and break their back.”

If you were watching the WWE, you’d think that was the goal, wearing someone down before breaking their back. But it’s college basketball, and it’s the same, though you’re only breaking their proverbial back.

Head coach Tony Bennett‘s club leads the country in scoring defense, allowing just 55.5 points per game.

Is it because you likely can’t name a single player on their roster?

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Last year, guard Joe Harris was first-team all-ACC thanks to his 16.3 points per game while Akil Mitchell garnered third-team honors after averaging 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. This year, Harris (11.8 ppg) isn’t even the top 20 in the conference but the team has already won seven more games than last year’s squad. As for Mitchell, his rebounding numbers are down (7.0 rpg) and his scoring is way down (6.9 ppg). But again, the team is better. They have a freshman point guard in London Perrantes who has the 5th-best assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6) in the entire country.

Is it because the Michigan State Spartans is a more “legit” title contender who just happens to be a 4-seed?

Sparty is finally healthy and has won five straight games following an 11-game stretch in which they went just 5-6. Center Adreian Payne played out of his mind in their second round win against Delaware (41 points, 8 rebounds) but managed just 12 points and 4 rebounds in a win over Harvard two days later. Mitchell and sophomore big-man Mike Tobey will have the task of keeping Payne in check. His 41-point game was the first in the NCAA Tournament since 2008 when Davidson’s Stephen Curry torched Gonzaga for 40 in an upset win over the Bulldogs.

Harris and his fellow backcourt mates will have to keep the defensive pressure on Michigan State’s guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris, names you’ve surely heard before, who have combined for just nine turnovers in two games.

The country will see on Friday night at Madison Square Garden if Virginia is for real (they are) and if the Cavs lose, the experts, all of whom left Virginia out of their Final Fours, will simply say, “I told you so.” But if they win, if they can pull off the historic “upset,” maybe they’ll start getting the respect they deserve. A top seed pulling off an upset in its own region, that’s almost laughable, isn’t it?

Imagine that, an ACC school still alive in the Sweet Sixteen not named Duke or North Carolina. Virginia is carrying the flag for the entire conference, once thought to be the powerhouse in college basketball, but now a mere afterthought in this year’s tournament.

Friday’s game be seen on TBS with tip scheduled for approximately 9:57 pm EST.

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