If there’s still anyone out there hiding under a rock and complaining about the ACC‘s unbalanced college basketball schedule, or who doesn’t like the Virginia Cavaliers’ style of play, or who complains that the Cavaliers don’t have that one dominant scorer, then that’s fine. At this point, there’s nothing more the Cavaliers can do to impress you. They’re getting along just fine, thanks.
The ACC regular-season and tournament champions, Virginia is the last team from the conference that is still alive in the NCAA tournament after Sunday night’s 78-60 rout of the Memphis Tigers in the third round of the East Regional at Raleigh, N.C. Perhaps symbolically, playing on the home court of conference rival North Carolina State, the atmosphere sounded more like a UVA home game in Charlottesville as the Cavaliers led by 15 at halftime and pulled away by as many as 27 points with just more than three minutes to play. Five Cavaliers scored in double figures, led by 16 points from senior Joe Harris.
Sunday’s win was a comprehensive view of why the Cavaliers are now 30-6. The defense stifled Memphis (24-10) for long stretches, while the offense was efficient and on target. The Cavaliers were shooting better than 60 percent from the field for much of the game before finishing at 56 percent. Memphis missed 35 shots, but corralled just eight offensive rebounds. Freshman point guard London Perrantes didn’t commit a turnover. Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey dominated offensively inside. And faced with an unusually big lead early, the Cavaliers didn’t step off the gas until the final minute, with Tobey even hitting his first career three-pointer.
After a slow start against 16-seed Coastal Carolina in Friday’s second-round win, the Cavaliers in the last 60 minutes of play have scored 118 points, held their opponents to 84, and removed any remaining doubt about whether they deserved to be the East’s top seed. Virginia has now won 21 of its last 23 games and will meet fourth-seeded Michigan State in Friday night’s regional semifinal. That game will perhaps be Virginia’s toughest test this season, as the Spartans are a team that, at full strength, is definitely capable of winning the national championship.
Can the same thing be said for Virginia? With the tournament field now down to a mere 16 teams, Florida, Arizona and perhaps Michigan are the likely the only remaining teams in the field you’d make Virginia an underdog against. The Spartans were nearly every expert’s pick to escape the East and go to the Final Four, which will make it interesting to see if Virginia is an underdog, even as the top seed, on Friday at Madison Square Garden.
That even being a thought for a 1-seed playing as Virginia is against a 4-seed seems strange, doesn’t it? If you took Virginia’s game and players, and put them in Kansas or Indiana jerseys, you’d have one of the biggest stories and most highly regarded teams in all of college basketball (you’d also have two teams that would still be playing right now, unlike the real versions). There’s no doubt Michigan State might win. But doubting Virginia seems to be a more futile pursuit with each passing game. Because Virginia hasn’t been this good in so many years (this is UVA’s first Sweet 16 trip in 20 years), some can’t see the forest for the trees.
But Virginia has earned its spot under the bright lights of MSG Friday night. What the Cavaliers do with it remains to be seen. But making the assumption that they don’t have a chance or won’t show up to play, especially if for Michigan State, might prove to be very unwise.