Virginia earned the No. 1 seed in this region by losing just three times the last seven weeks of the season: at Duke, at Miami and in the ACC tournament final to North Carolina. The Cavaliers’ largest margin of defeat in those games was four — to the Tar Heels.
Of course had Villanova won the Big East tournament, U-Va. would have been a No. 2 seed and in the same region as Oregon or the Wildcats. The Cavaliers might have preferred that to the daunting notion of — again — having to go through Michigan State to get to the Final Four.
Two years ago, the Spartans were under-seeded at No. 4 and played top-seeded Virginia in the round of 16 — and won. A year ago they were ridiculously under-seeded at No. 7 and played No. 2 seeded Virginia in the round of 32 — and won.
Now they are the No. 2 seed, again under-seeded and in Virginia’s path.
Tony Bennett must have nightmares about Tom Izzo.
That said, Virginia should cruise to its first region final since 1995. The one potential roadblock is Purdue in the round of 16 because the Boilermakers are huge. Their guards, though, are flawed enough that they could lose to Iowa State, a team led by the wonderful Georges Niang. The Cyclones’ first-round opponent, Iona, has won once in the NCAA tournament: in 1980, when it was coached by Jim Valvano.
Virginia would be better off playing Iowa State in the round of 16. Like most of the Big Ten — except for Michigan — Purdue is under-seeded.
The lower half of the draw is full of intriguing matchups. Dayton-Syracuse in the first round is one of them. The Orange got in because the committee somehow decided that a coach missing games (Jim Boeheim, nine) because of suspension was somehow the same as a player missing games because of injury. Seriously?
Utah should advance to face Seton Hall or Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team had to work harder to make this field than any of his previous 15, which might make the ’Zags dangerous. On the other hand, Seton Hall has played superbly down the stretch.
One wonders, though, about how much the Pirates have in the tank after Saturday’s dramatic win over Villanova. In 1983, after his team won the ACC tournament as a No. 6 seed, Valvano said N.C. State would either lose in the first round or win the whole thing. The Wolfpack beat Pepperdine in double-overtime and then won the whole thing. Don’t expect the same of Seton Hall. But if the Pirates beat Gonzaga and Utah, they could be a very tough out for Michigan State.
No one would be rooting harder for that upset than Virginia. Then again, the third time might be the charm for the Cavaliers.
More 2016 NCAA tournament coverage:
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