The Cavaliers enter the NCAA Tournament as the number 1 overall seed on the heels of an ACC Regular Season Championship and ACC Tournament Championship. Led by Sharp Shooter Kyle Guy, the Virginia Cavaliers are not your typical number 1 team. Due to their lack of star power, they are a bit of a throwback and although they don’t have anywhere near the most talent in the country, they are the best “team”. Tony Bennett has done an unbelievable job creating a culture of winning at Virginia. This is not a team that going to score 80 points and blow you away. Virginia takes the air out of the ball and is extremely efficient on both sides of the floor. Look for them to make a run deep into the tournament.
Why they could win it all: The name of the game for Virginia is defense, and theirs is good on a historic level. The Cavaliers have the best defense in the country as they give up about 53 points per game which is number one in division 1 basketball by a long shot. Virginia can frustrate teams causing them to take bad shots and settle for jumpers. They are not a big shot blocking team but their defense is swarming and only gets better later in the shot clock, something Tony Bennett has his guys work on during practice. Virginia held Clemson to 36 points, UNC to 49 and Duke to 63 throughout the ACC regular season. Virginia is an old school grind it out team that can be really difficult for an opponent to try and figure it in a one game scenario.
Why They Could lose Early: The scary thing about a team like Virginia in a one and done scenario is if their opponent just gets hot. Now, I don’t think this is likely, because so far, literally no one has gotten “hot” against the Cavaliers defense this year but stranger things have happened in March. The issue Virginia does face, and it is a legitimate one, is their lack of scoring ability. At times, they really struggle to score the ball which has had them living on the edge more than a few times this year. Although the trend has been for them to pull out a W, it is not a game you want to play in the NCAA Tournament.
If Davidson can get past Kentucky they could potentially upset an up and down Arizona team. Although they will be out talented against both Kentucky and potentially Arizona, they have provedn this year with two wins over URI and a close loss to North Carolina, that they have the ability to play with anyone in the country. A win over Kentucky would surely boost them to run into Arizona with a ton of confidence, and a Cinderella with swag is a dangerous thing.
Honorable Mention(s): Texas (10) coached by Shaka Smart (Nevada Round 1)
Player To Watch: DeAndre Ayton
DeAndre Ayton is an absolute beast. When he is on he is almost unstoppable and what really gets him going is his touch from mid-range. When he plays to his potential he makes beating Arizona very, very difficult. When Ayton is able to stretch the defense, he causes matchup issues all over the rest of the floor. Enjoy watching Ayton in this NCAA Tournament because it will be the last time we see him in a college jersey.
The Matchup We Want To See: Virginia vs. Kentucky (5) in the Sweet Sixteen. This is the ultimate strength against strength. Virginia swarms the ball and is as well coached as any team in the country. They take the air out of the ball and slow the game down which is the exact opposite of what John Calipari wants to see out of his Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is not as talented as they have been in years past but they are playing their best basketball of the year. This is a matchup that favors Virginia because of the experience and consistency they have played with all year. Kentucky has not seen a team like Virginia in the BIG 12 where Virginia has played against and succeded against talented up-tempo teams. I give the edge here to Virginia but it as an extremely intriguing matchup. 67-61
Who Wins The South?: Virginia goes to the Final Four. They play their game and they don’t let their opponent affect them at all. The team that could give them a scare is Kentucky because of their athleticism, but I think Virginia’s defense is too good to turn away from them now. Of any number 1 seed, Virginia has the easiest path to the Final Four.
The number 1 seed in the East Region enters the tournament on a 5 game win streak and a Big East title. The Wildcats may have gotten away with the trophy a little easy as Xavier was shocked by Providence in the semi-final. Villanova now has 30 wins for the 4th straight season and has a ton of experience. A National Championship in 2016, followed up by a second round exit to Wisconsin in 2017 has the Jay Wright led 2018 team ready for anything thrown at them. They average 87.1 points a game and swarm quickly on defense. Nova is fun to watch and the Vegas favorite to win it all in San Antonio.
Why they can win it all: There are so many reasons they can win it all. They play fast, they can shoot, they don’t turn the ball over, and they have arguably the best coach in college basketball. Jay Wright has built a great roster with 6 guys who average over 10 points per game including Naismith candidate Jalen Brunson and potential lottery pick, Mikal Bridges. They can get all the way to the Final Four again and win it all because this region doesn’t have any powerhouse schools that have been in the tournament recently. Purdue (2) is very good, but they haven’t been here before, Texas Tech (3) has backed into the tournament having lost 5 of 7 and Wichita St (4) doesn’t have the teams in the past and has 7 losses in a weak conference. This really feels like it could be another special year for the Wildcats.
Why they can lose early: Maybe the depth isn’t there? They have a 6 maybe 7 man rotation they use which could cause fatigue in a one and done scenario. Maybe the Big East isn’t as good as we think and the same thing happens as last year with the loss to Wisconsin before the Sweet 16 where they relied on the three ball too much and got cold at the wrong time.
Have loved Arkansas, the 7 seed, all year. The SEC had some really good teams this year with Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Kentucky finishing ahead of Arkansas. Technically, yes Florida could have been our pick but Florida always seems to be a threat due to their name and I wouldn’t associate them with “Cinderella.” Arkansas finished 23-11 and they have two extremely good and experienced guards who can get the job done with Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. Barford averaged 18PPG, 4RPG and nearly 3APG while Macon averaged 17-3-4. Alongside those two guards is big man, Daniel Gafford, is a potential lottery pick who is listed at 6’11, 235 and averaged 12 and 6 as just a freshman. They beat Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St this year so they can beat good teams. Could they lose to Butler in the first round? Sure. But I like their guard play and the big man to step up when it matters most and make a run.
Honorable Mentions: Marshall (13) is extremely high scoring (Wichita State round 1)
Murray State (14) is also very high scoring and are 26-5 on the season (West Virginia round 1)
Player to Watch: Jalen Brunson
Naismith Player of the Year candidate from Villanova. Has been an absolute monster all season and has experience. He is one of the biggest names in the tournament due to his 19P/5A/3RPG and his experience from winning a National title in 2016. He should be a blast to watch and could be going for his second ring.
The Game We Want To See: Villanova vs Marshall (13) in the Sweet 16. It may be relatively farfetched but wouldn’t it be a great story to see Marshall come out of nowhere and make a run because they just score and score? Then go on to play the highest scoring offense in the nation and see what happens? Everyone loves scoring and if Marshall, who averaged over 84 points all year, was lights out the first two games, why couldn’t they be for a third game and give Nova all they can handle? Nova 91-78.
Who Wins The East?: Villanova is the 1 seed for a reason. Their region doesn’t seem super difficult to get through. Are there obstacles? Obviously. Anything can happen in March. But this team seems like a team destined to play in at least a Final Four game. They’re deep, fast, smart and experienced. Jay Wright is a stud and he has 2 huge talents in Brunson and Bridges. Should be super fun to watch all tournament. That is, if they don’t get knocked off by another 8-9 seed!
Kansas does it again. All they do is win BIG 12 titles and this year was no different. Kansas is one of the hottest teams in the country after winning eight of their last nine, which is no small feat in the daunting BIG 12 conference. Kansas can really score the ball and when their defense can step up and turn opponents over they can really be dangerous. Some of their numbers are a bit skewed due to the pace and style of most of the teams in the BIG 12. Devonte’ Graham is an explosive scorer but he is not alone. The Jay Hawks have five players averaging double figures which is something that’s almost unheard of.
Why They Could Win It All: Scoring. In the NCAA Tournament, it’s all about scoring. This team is Virginia flipped upside down. For everything Virginia is, Kansas is not and vice versa. Kansas is extremely top heavy which gives them a lot of different scoring options which makes them less prone to scoring droughts. I like Kansas because they play an up-tempo pace that is difficult to match. They have a serious three-point shooter in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and a bigtime inside threat in Udoka Azubuike who shot over 77% from the floor. If Kansas can stay hot shooting the ball, look for them to make a run deep into March.
Why They Could Lose Early: It’s pretty simple for Kansas. They can go up against anyone in the country when it comes to scoring the ball, but when they struggle it is due to foul trouble. They are extremely top heavy and don’t have a lot of depth. I thought this was going to hurt them in the BIG 12 Tournament but they proved me wrong. The Jayhawks only go about seven deep and when they have to go deeper into their bench things get shaky. If Kansas gets into foul trouble and their round of sixty four game is close (it won’t be) they could be tired heading into the round of 32 against either Seton Hall or NC State.
I hate writing this but I can’t not say Oklahoma. Trae Young lost a little bit of his magic and no, Oklahoma doesn’t play any defense, but if he gets hot everyone needs to watch out. Oklahoma can go into this tournament like it’s the beginning of their season. Trae Young might be the closest thing to Steph Curry out there and a supporting cast that can absolutely score the basketball makes them dangerous. North Carolina cannot be happy they may see Oklahoma and the best scorer in the country in the Round of 32. A lot of people think Oklahoma shouldn’t have made the tournament, and they may be right. But there is not a team in the country that would say “Oh good we get to play Oklahoma, this will be a walk in the park” Which makes the Sooners very dangerous.
Honorable Mention(s): New Mexico State 28 wins against average team first round (Clemson Round 1)
Player To Watch: Trae Young
He may be the best scorer since Steph Curry and as long as he stays hot, Oklahoma stays dangerous. Sometimes the Sooner defense does not allow Young to win them a game, but he absolutely has the ability to shake up the entire Midwest region.
The Matchup We Want To See: Duke vs Kansas. Two star studded teams that would make for an incredible matchup in the Elite Eight. This is such an intriguing game because these two teams are the ultimate representatives of their respective conferences. Kansas along with the rest of the Big 12 loves to light up the scoreboard and run. Duke and the rest of the rest of the ACC play tough hard nose basketball with a lot of sets and a lot of defense. The combination of Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III will prove too much for the Jayhawks in this one. Duke has had to face some real defenses in the ACC, something Kansas has yet to deal with. Duke wins this one 75-69.
Honorable Mention: URI vs Arizona State. It would also be awesome to see a Hurley vs. Hurley sweet sixteen with URI playing Arizona State. Although it would be an awesome story, it is not very likely at all.
Who Wins The Midwest?: Duke is the best overall team in this region. Marvin Bagley will be the first pick in the NBA draft and rightfully so, he is athletic, smart and can shoot the ball. The Blue Devils have a unique combination of talented young players and seasoned veterans that have been in the tournament before. Duke came up short in the ACC Tournament against North Carolina in a game that can always go either way. Oklahoma poses a bit of an issue for Duke but if they can keep Trae Young from catching fire they should be fine against a non-existent Oklahoma defense. Duke wins the Midwest.
Xavier One of the most dangerous teams in the country. Xavier can absolutely light up the scoreboard. Defensively they have struggled this year but they are a gritty team that loves to play fast and shoot the ball. My big issue with Xavier is the quality of their wins. They did have a huge win against Cincinnati in what may be the most underrated rivalry in college basketball. The duo of Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura is deadly when they are both shooting the ball well. Macura is one of the most intriguing players in this years NCAA Tournament as he may be the most despised player in the Big East but is absolutely adored at Xavier. Xavier is not a strong defensive team by any means which has gotten them in trouble when Macura or Bluiett get into foul trouble.
Why They Could Win It All: Star Power. Senior Trevon Bluiett is one of the top guards in the country and has been here before. In order to win the NCAA Tournament, a team needs someone to lean on. I’ve always been prone to favoring guard led teams, and when that guard is a senior that can really score the basketball, I tend to favor that team anymore. Xavier has a good combination of talent and depth. With more talent than Virginia and more depth than Kansas, look for Xavier to really wear down their opponents with fresh legs and high pressure. Look for Xavier to breeze to the Sweet Sixteen for a potential matchup with Gonzaga.
Why They Could Lose Early: If Xavier decides they don’t want to play defense they could find themselves in a close game early against either Florida State or Missouri. Look, scoring is great, but if you can’t defend, or choose not to, the NCAA Tournament can be a scary event. Xavier does not have to be a team that lives on the edge as they have shown they can defend (A little) and as of late their defense has gotten better, but giving up 95 to Villanova, 91 to Georgetown, 93 to Butler and 102 to Arizona State is more than a fluke, it is a trend. And I get it, when you score a lot of points like Xavier does and you play an up-tempo game, you are going to give up points. I’m just not too sure the big dance is where you want to roll the dice. If Xavier goes cold against Florida State or Missouri in the round of 32 they could be on upset alert.
Providence (10) almost took home the Big East title which would have meant beating two eventual number 1 seeds. Providence doesn’t have a ton of star power, which is something that a Cinderella usually possesses. What Providence lacks in talent they make up in coaching and playing together. The experience the Friars possess could take them a long way if they can stay consistent. Providence is not a sure fire Cinderella, but isn’t that kind of the point?
Honorable Mentions: South Dakota St. is a scary 12 seed with 28 wins (Ohio State first round)
Player To Watch: JP Macura
J.P. Macura is one of the most impactful, underappreciated players in the country. Macura will drive opposing teams crazy and when he scores the basketball, Xavier is extremely tough to beat. Xavier is 7-1 when Macura scores more than 18 points as he ads a serious second dimension to the Musketeer scoring threat.
The Matchup We Want To See: North Carolina vs. Xavier in the Elite Eight. Two extremely talented teams that both missed winning their conference championship. Joel Beryy could be the most underrated player in the country, and any time you have the best player in the country on your team, anything can happen. I love Xavier and Trevon Blueitt, but the “X” factor is J.P. Macura. Sean Miller and his Wildcats could benefit from getting off campus where they can focus solely on basketball, but I think Xavier is too tough and too deep. Arizona has been too up and down for me to jump on the bandwagon now but If you want a high scoring game with plenty of star power, this is it. Xavier wins this one 88-81.
Who Wins The West?: Xavier will be the west champion. West Virginia is a matchup problem but I think their inability to score the basketball really hinders them. I see Xavier meeting WVU in the Elite Eight but Xaviers guard play is able to beat the Mountaineer press which will result in WVU struggling to score. Xavier has a tough road to the Final four but there are too many flaws with the dangerous teams in the West to keep Xavier from winning the region.
MAJOR 4 PICKS:Bold are Final Four Picks, Bold/Italic is the Final, Bold/Italic/Underline is Champion
UVA, Tennessee, Ohio State, UNC, Villanova,Texas Tech, Auburn, Michigan State
UVA, Tennessee, Villanova, Purdue, Xavier, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas