The Virginia Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the East region bracket, but because the No. 4 seed Michigan State Spartans came into the NCAA tournament on fire and have coach Tom Izzo‘s resume backing them up, Sparty is actually the favorite coming into the Sweet 16 game.
While UVA coach Tony Bennett and his players will never admit they know they are slated as the underdog in the game, they will have to play like one if they are going to beat the favored Spartans.
Virginia came into the tournament just as hot, if not more so, than Michigan State after waltzing through the ACC tournament and beating the Duke Blue Devils rather easily in the conference championship game. Some supporters may have felt worried as the Cavaliers struggled early in their 2nd round game against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, but that chatter was quickly put the rest when the Memphis Tigers were shut down in every way during the 3rd round game.
Virginia has been doubted all season and it seems they thrive on it. No one picked Virginia to claim either the regular season or conference ACC championships, yet they stormed through both. The Cavaliers were the last team to hold North Carolina State‘s T.J. Warren to less than 10 points and only the Maryland Terrapins scored more than 70 points against them since Jan. 1.
Michigan State definitely offers a totally different challenge with its up-and-down pace and inside-to-outside game, but Virginia has seen and defeated nearly all comers. The Cavaliers are predicted by few to advance to the Elite 8, and if they are going to, they need to play with the same chip on their shoulder they have been all season.