Virginia is a popular pick to wind up on the wrong end of a fabled 12-over-5 upset. Yahoo! Sports was among the outlets labeling the Cavaliers’ draw one of the tournament’s toughest.
It makes at least some level of sense. The Wahoos’ offense can go ice cold at times. UNCW pushed Duke to the wire a year ago and plays a pressing, up-tempo style that sometimes gives UVA trouble. Virginia’s players know plenty are picking against them.
“It’s nothing new,” UVA senior point guard London Perrantes said. “They thought we were going to be the first 1-seed to lose to a 16, too.”
So sure, it’s not the easiest first-round matchup in the world. But suppose the Cavs do get past the Seahawks. Well, then it’s hard to imagine a region better suited for Tony Bennett’s team to make a deep run.
Fourth-seeded Florida likely waits in the second round, though plenty are also picking the Gators as a prime upset candidate. Florida has lost three of its past four games and has generally struggled since center John Egbunu was lost to injury.
For all of Virginia’s February struggles, the Cavs are looking at two extremely winnable games standing between them and the Sweet 16.
And who is the most likely third-round opponent? None other than top-seeded Villanova — a team Virginia lost to on the road on a last-second tip-in. You think UVA wouldn’t like its chances in a neutral-court rematch?
Or maybe the Wildcats don’t make it that far. No. 8 seed Wisconsin is essentially a poor man’s Virginia, while No. 9 Virginia Tech fell hard in Charlottesville before winning in Blacksburg after Perrantes’ potential game-winner came to a dead rest on the back of the rim.
The point is, there isn’t a single team in the top half of the bracket that Virginia can’t beat. If the Cavaliers make shots at a reasonable rate, they could easily get back to the Elite Eight.
That’s a lot of ifs, and NCAA tournament games are always going to be tough ones. But a 5-seed is always going to face challenges. At this point, one would assume Virginia fans would gladly take an Elite Eight appearance in a “down” year.
If it happened to be No. 2 seed Duke waiting in the regional final, that would give Virginia a relatively low-pressure opportunity to spoil the Blue Devils’ season.
Think of it as a role reversal from last season, when Syracuse upset the Cavs one game before the Final Four.