No matter how good Virginia is, the Cavaliers always come up short in the NCAA Tournament. Year in and year out, they have the top-ranked defense in the nation but their lack of offense comes back to bite them come tourney time.
This year feels different. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I’m dumb. But this feels like the year Tony Bennett finally gets the elusive national championship. From top to bottom, this Cavaliers team is stacked with players who can compete on both sides of the floor and fit Bennett’s system to a tee.
Do you want more specifics? Here are three reasons why the Virginia Cavaliers will win the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
We all know why Virginia was bounced from the tournament last season: the Cavaliers scored just 39 points in their Round of 32 game against Florida. No Virginia player scored more than nine points, which was simply not good enough to complement their solid defensive effort.
This is a different Virginia team.
Instead of depending on the not-so-potent offense of London Perrantes, Tony Bennett’s team has legitimate shooters who want the ball in their hands during crunch time. Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter all average more than 9.0 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from the field. This is easily the deepest rotation of genuine shooters Bennett has had during his tenure in Charlottesville.
But let’s just focus on the Cavaliers’ leading scorer from last season compared to this year. Virginia went 7-6 last season when Perrantes scored 10 or fewer points. Comparably, Virginia is 6-0 this season when Guy does not record double-digit points/hasn’t played. Why is that? Because of the scoring depth. Perrantes was the lone qualifying player on Virginia to average more than 9.0 points per game in 2016-17 compared to the four that have accomplished the feat this season.
Virginia Is The Best Defense In The Nation (…Duh)
I tried to not write about this. It was too obvious. But you can’t talk about Virginia without talking about the defense. Let’s just keep it simple – here is a list of defensive categories that Virginia ranks inside the top five nationally:
Yep – Virginia is good.
Isaiah Wilkins – The Overlooked Linchpin
Yes, Isaiah Wilkins won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year – but do you even know who he is?
Wilkins has been routinely tasked with guarding the perimeter in Virginia’s pack-line defense, which resulted in the six-foot-seven forward often facing off against the opposition’s best players. And despite often being put in that position, Wilkins was one of the best defenders in recent memory – pacing the ACC in defensive rating, defensive win shares and defensive plus/minus.
On top of those numbers – which can be tough for some to grasp since they don’t show up in a box score – Wilkins lead Virginia in both steals and blocks.
Wilkins is the cornerstone of Virginia’s defense. A defense that is in the top five in the nation in points per game, assists per game, effective field-goal percentage and field goals allowed. No player has quietly been more important to his team this season than Wilkins has been to Virginia. Expect to know his name once you see him guarding some of the best players in the country throughout the tournament.