NCAA Tournament dishes Virginia a tough road as top team
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Virginia earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, its reward for one of the best seasons in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
The selection committee didn’t do the Cavaliers any favors on their side of the bracket.
The No. 1 seed in the South Region, Virginia is in a bracket that includes Arizona, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Tennessee. Kentucky and Arizona are both in the top half of the Cavaliers’ draw.
Virginia (31-2) opens against UMBC in Charlotte on Thursday.
“I told our players that everyone can play if they’re in there,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “UMBC, I just started to know more about them. You just see the teams in your bracket and there’s some really quality teams.”
Virginia set a school record for victories, won the conference tournament for the second time in five seasons and earned its sixth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers did it with no surefire NBA lottery picks and a shutdown defense that led the nation with the fewest points allowed per game.
But a gauntlet of a quality teams could be waiting for them.
Kentucky coach John Calipari had the youngest of his always-young teams this season, but the Wildcats (24-10) are playing their best basketball and won the SEC Tournament.
Arizona (27-7) also is peaking at the right time, following a Pac-12 regular-season title with a dominating win over Southern California in the conference tournament. The Wildcats also have multi-talented freshman big man Deandre Ayton, who had two monster games in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Cincinnati (3-4) also has a stifling defense and won the American Athletic Conference title.
Throw in Tennessee (25-8), the SEC tournament runner-up, and the South is loaded with roadblocks in Virginia’s path to the Final Four.
REGION OF DEATH?: The South is tough, but the Midwest Region may be tougher.
Topped by No. 1 seed Kansas, the Midwest also includes Duke and Michigan State, which were both ranked in the top 4 in The Associated Press poll. Oh, and it has Oklahoma freshman Trae Young, who has the potential to go on a Steph Curry-like NCAA run.
The Jayhawks (27-7) won a record 14th straight Big 12 regular-season championship and backed that up with the conference tournament title.
Duke (26-7) has one of the nation’s most talented rosters, led by senior guard Grayson Allen and dynamic freshman big man Marvin Bagley Jr.
Michigan State (29-4) won the Big Ten regular-season title and has a potent 1-2 punch in Miles Bridges and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr.
Young became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in scoring and assists.
Whichever teams makes it through Omaha to the Final Four in San Antonio will have earned it.
MARSHALL VS. MARSHALL: One first-round game that should be fun to watch is Wichita State and coach Gregg Marshall against Marshall.
The Shockers (25-7) have the type of roster that can make another deep March run, led by guard Landry Shamut and big man Markis McDuffie. Wichita State has been inconsistent, though, and lost two of its final three games, including to Cincinnati in the AAC tournament semifinals.
Marshall won’t be able to match Marshall’s Shockers in terms of talent, but plays a freewheelng style under coach Dan D’Antoni that’s difficult to prepare for on short notice.
’NOVA NO. 1: Villanova (30-4) is the No. 1 seed in the East Region, a familiar position for the Wildcats. Villanova was a No. 1 last year and has consistently been a high seed under coach Jay Wright.
Where they have trouble is advancing past the NCAA Tournament’s first week.
Villanova lost in the second round to Wisconsin last year and has advanced past the opening weekend twice in nine years. One came in 2016, when the Wildcats won the national championship.
Villanova opens against the LIU Brooklyn-Radford winner on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
THE ODDS: Virginia is the top overall seed, but Villanova is the favorite to win the national title. The Wildcats are 9-2 favorites to win the title, according to VegasInsider.com, with Duke right behind at 5-1. Virginia is 6-1, Michigan State 8-1. The worst odds: Nine teams at 1,000-1, including Montana, Belmont and Savannah State.