The Virginia Cavaliers are entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, raising hopes that the team might be able to secure its first men’s basketball national championship in school history.
Virginia (31-2) has looked like the best team in the country for most of the season, and has been given the top seed in the South Region as a reward. The Cavaliers are widely considered to be the best defensive squad in college basketball, a feeling that is supposed by advanced analytics on sites like kenpom.com. Throw in an ACC Tournament victory to cap off the season, and it’s easy to see why Virginia is a popular choice to win it all.
Tough Path to Final Four
According to head coach Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers aren’t taking anything for granted, including their game against No. 16 seed UMBC (24-10) in the opening round.
“Preparing well, that’s really important because we haven’t watched UMBC play a lot over the years,” Bennett told the Washington Post.
Virginia’s run to the Final Four won’t be easy. Their region has a number of capable teams, and even their half of the region seems to be loaded with traditional powerhouses that could spring an early-round upset.
In the Sweet 16, the Cavaliers are likely to play either No. 4 seed Arizona (27-7) or the fifth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (24-10). Survive that battle, and they could be destined to see Cincinnati (30-4) in the regional final.
Despite the tough competition, Virginia is still the odds-on pick to win the region. At Bovada, the team is +130 to emerge from the South to reach the Final Four. Cincinnati (+280) follows close behind thanks to their seemingly less daunting path through the early rounds, while Arizona (+350), Tennessee (+650), and Kentucky (+750) are all considered contenders as well.
Who Will Win the Midwest?
While Virginia may be the class of the South, the Midwest Region is considered more wide open. While No. 1 seed Kansas (27-7) is certainly a contender, the Jayhawks aren’t even the top choice to reach the Final Four out of the region. In fact, some are even predicting a tricky test for the team in their first game, as 16th seed Penn (24-8) has been given better odds than just about any No. 16 team in recent memory of pulling off a first round upset – though Kansas is still considered a 14-point favorite according to SportsLine.
“To me, objectively thinking, I don’t think like this is a 16-1 game,” Penn coach Steve Donahue told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That doesn’t mean Kansas isn’t terrific and that we don’t have our work cut out for us, but I feel strongly we will perform well.”
Kansas is far from a long shot to win the region, as the Jayhawks are +270 to get to the Final Four. But favorite status has instead been hoisted upon the Duke Blue Devils (26-7), who are listed at +205. Michigan State (29-4), who many were surprised to see fall to a No. 3 seed, are also right in the hunt at +230, and could meet Duke for a high-profile showdown in the Sweet 16.