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Scouting the Contenders: Virginia Cavaliers

Kyle Guy, Virginia
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, and scouts their strengths and weaknesses and just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We begin with the nation's current No. 1 team, the Virginia Cavaliers.

Track Record:

  • 23-2 overall, 12-1 ACC
  • Notable Wins: 65-63 @ Duke, 61-49 vs. UNC, 70-55 vs. Rhode Island
  • Notable Losses: 68-61 @ West Virginia, 61-60 vs. Virginia Tech
  • Best defense in the nation, allowing just 52.8 points per game
Scouting Report:  Head coach Tony Bennett has done an absolutely masterful job building Virginia into a legitimate powerhouse in the crowded ACC, but this year was supposed to be different. The Cavaliers had to replace a ton of production from last year's squad, and lacked their usual crop of quality veterans. However, Virginia's stingy "packline" defense and the improvement of sophomores Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have enabled them to take over the ACC, and earn a No. 1 ranking despite a loss this past week to rival Virginia Tech. The reason that UVA is so tough to beat, even when they are not quite as talented as others, is that physical, tough defense. The Cavaliers communicate and rotate as well as anybody in the country, and every one of their key contributors are terrific one-on-one defenders. That defense gives them a chance to win every single game, even when their inconsistent offense doesn't always show up. The last few NCAA Tournament bids for the Cavs have been ended early due to that offense, which is good, but far from great. Guy's play has been huge for Virginia, as the former Indiana Mr. Basketball has evolved into a very legitimate No. 1 option (15.3 PPG) and a very good three-point shooter (39 percent). But, even he is prone to off days, and the offense has certainly struggled in those situations. For example, Guy had an off day this weekend against Virginia Tech, shooting just 5-21 from the field and a lowly 3-14 from deep. The Cavaliers' offense wasn't able to replace his production, and they lost to their rivals at home. Senior point guard Devon Hall has proven he can be a great No. 2 option throughout the season, but he also struggles with inconsistency. Beyond that, Virginia's offense lacks much bite, although Ty Jerome has proven himself as one of the best clutch players in the conference, which obviously is quite the advantage. An important thing to watch is going to be the lack of low-post scoring. So far, it hasn't been too much of an issue for the Cavaliers but with how many great big men are in college basketball this season, it could end up being a problem. Virginia's top four scorers are all guards, and their top big man is probably veteran Isaiah Wilkins. Wilkins is a hard-working, rock-solid big but he averages just 5.9 PPG and doesn't really strike fear into opponents. If he, or somebody else in the frontcourt could step up offensively, this team definitely becomes much more dangerous. Another big question mark that is still yet to answer is overall experience. Hall and Wilkins are both proven veterans who clearly know how to win, but overall, this is one of the youngest UVA teams in the Bennett era. Again, so far it hasn't been too much of an issue for the Cavaliers, but we all know how important it can be when March rolls around. Overall though, this team has the makeup of one that does generally succeed in the NCAA Tournament, although there are some deficiencies. There is still some dangerous offensive weapons here, a solid amount of experience, and enough depth. 

The Verdict: With Gonzaga's Mark Few reaching the NCAA Championship last year, Tony Bennett takes over as the best coach without a Final Four on his resume (along with Arizona's Sean Miller). This may not be his best team in terms of talent, but that doesn't mean they aren't ready to go on a serious run. When Guy and Hall are hitting their shots this team is incredibly tough, and their defense has withstood the test of time. The big question will be about maintaining leads with their offense. Over their last few NCAA bids, UVA has jumped out to leads on a number of occasions, but has choked them away due to that offense hitting a wall. This team has had the same problem at times, and it is certainly a cause for concern. Even so, this is a team I feel pretty confident about, or about as confident as you can be in a season where everybody at the top continues to lose. Without any idea what the bracket might look like, this is a team I feel confident picking to reach the Elite Eight. If they can play the way they have been playing for much of the season, Bennett's first Final Four could certainly be in order, and perhaps even higher honors.

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