Finally, the Virginia Cavaliers earned a coveted trip to the Final Four under Tony Bennett. A year after losing to the UMBC Retrievers in the first round, the Cavaliers were on the brink of disaster in the first round. However, their double digit first round deficit to a 16-seed came in the first half. The Cavaliers were able to recover and win by double digits.
However, their Final Four chances looked dim until the Purdue Boilermakers fouled up three. The Cavaliers made one foul shot before missing the second one. A long tap out rebound turned into a miraculous pass and shot, sending the Elite 8 game into overtime. The Cavaliers won and became the only No. 1 seed to advance to the Final Four. They also have the best record left in college basketball.
Virginia Cavaliers (33-3) South Region Champs
Head Coach: Tony Bennett (252-89) 10 Seasons
South Region: No. 1 seed
ACC Regular Season Champs (16-2)
NCAA Tournament Wins: 4
1st round: 71-56 vs. No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
2nd round: 63-51 vs. No. 9 seed Oklahoma Sooners
Sweet 16: 53-49 vs. No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks
Elite 8: 80-75 OT vs. No. 3 seed Purdue Boilermakers
Final Fours: 3
National Semifinal opponent: Auburn Tigers
It took coach Bennett 10 seasons to reach a Final Four with the Cavaliers. They have played the lowest possible seed in each round. However, they’ve clearly played the tougher competition regardless of seed. After defeating the Oklahoma Sooners in the second round, the Cavaliers battled with the Oregon Ducks for 40 minutes in the Sweet 16. In all, they defeated the Big South tournament champion, the PAC-12 tournament champion and the Big Ten regular season co-champ. Now, they are facing the SEC tournament champion on Saturday.
Player to Watch: Kyle Guy: It took a long while, but Kyle Guy finally decided to show up. Guy averaged 15.2 points during the season. He was only scoring 7.3 points per game through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament. Yet, he exploded for 25 points in the Elite 8 win over the Purdue Boilermakers. It still wouldn’t have been enough without a little luck.
The Cavaliers also need De’Andre Hunter to play better in the Final Four. Hunter was relegated to the bench late in the game against the Boilermakers. He spent so much energy trying to contain the Carsen Edwards, the individual offensive exploits were null and void. Hunter scored 10 points in the overtime victory. Four of those points came in overtime. Hunter played 36 minutes in the contest and only attempted 10 shots. Meanwhile, Guy and Ty Jerome attempted 37 shots combined. Even Mamadi Diakite attempted 11 shots. Diakite also hit the biggest shot in program history, possibly.
The Cavaliers have the best scoring defense at 55.4 points per game. They are scoring 71.3 points per game. So far, the Cavaliers are giving up 57.7 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. If you take away the overtime Elite 8 win, they are holding opponents to 52 points per game. Meanwhile, the offense is scoring 66.7 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Each game has been different. They have scored in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s during the postseason.
Depending on the type of game, the Cavaliers might have to score in the 80’s again to earn a trip to the national title game. The Cavaliers are also No. 4 in offensive rating and No. 5 in defensive rating. Meaning, they can play at an up tempo level if the game picks up the pace. Still, they would rather play at a slower rate against the Auburn Tigers.