Team Preview: Virginia Cavaliers
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There are numerous teams this year that have the potential to make it to the Final Four in what should be an exciting as usual NCAA Tournament. We will go over some of the favorites to cut down the nets at the end, starting with Virginia.
Team: Virginia Cavaliers
Coach: Tony Bennett
First Opponent: Gardner-Webb
KenPom Offensive Efficiency Rating: 2nd
KenPom Defensive Efficiency Rating: 3rd
Why Virginia Can Win It All: First and foremost, this is not your Virginia of last year, or of any years prior under Tony Bennett, in fact. This year’s Cavaliers team is already the best offensive team ever coached by Bennett, and the Cavaliers have soared to new offensive heights by adapting their relatively conservative offensive system. The Cavaliers still play at a slow tempo, but they have added a steady diet of ball-screens to their offense to run in tandem with Bennett’s Mover-Blocker system. Virginia’s diversified offense keeps opposing defenses off balance. Furthermore, the Cavaliers sensational sophomore backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy are marksman from three-point range, and are largely responsible for Virginia currently being fourth in the nation in three-point shooting percentage. Sophomore do-it-all and future top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter can guard almost every position on the floor as well as putting great stress on the opposing interior defense with his offensive skill-set. Offensive improvements aside, defense is still, and will always be the calling card for a Tony Bennett coached team. The Cavaliers suffocating and third ranked Pack Line defense is once across wreaking havoc across college basketball. The Cavaliers defense is absolutely elite, respectively placing first in three-point shooting percentage defense and sixteenth in two-point shooting defense. Even more impressive is the fact that the Cavaliers rarely foul and send their opponents to the line, their defense is just so consistently disciplined and fundamentally sound.
Why Virginia Won’t Win It All: I don’t think it is fair to say that Virginia is a team incapable of winning the NCAA Tournament. Cavalier critics conflate last year’s upset with their predisposed dislike of Virginia’s methodical and slowed style of play. Tony Bennett has been to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 before, and this year’s team is the best he has coached. However, there is no number or game film that can accurately measure Virginia’s psyche come tournament time. Bennett and his players have been adamant about embracing the lessons from last year’s upset and not running from the infamy they created, but college basketball fan’s won’t truly know about the Cavalier’s mental state until adversity strikes and they will have to respond. The Cavaliers perimeter talent and shooting will keep them in every game. Both of Virginia’s losses this year came against a fully healthy Duke, who used their unparalleled athleticism to disrupt Virginia’s gameplan of limiting transition opportunities for the Blue Devils. Hyper athletic teams could pose a problem for the Cavaliers in the tournament, but ultimately it will likely be the resiliency of the Virginia Cavaliers that determines how far they advance.
By Evan Kurland