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.