It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
5. Virginia (22-10, 11-7/ACC)–The Cavaliers would have ended up with a much higher seed if not for a four-game losing streak from February 12-21, which included losses to Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, and Miami–all tournament teams. This is still a dangerous group, with one of the nation’s best coaches and most difficult to match up against schemes. They won’t go down easily.
UVA was 18-5 before that skid, and had just thumped Louisville, 71-55, in Charlottesville. Point guard London Perrantes (12.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) is the lone senior on the team, but he was one of the impact players that made the Cavs a No. 1 seed last year.
6-5 junior guard Marial Shayok is a terrific defender, as are Perrantes and 6-5 junior Devon Hall. Freshman guard Ty Jerome has shown a penchant for making the big shot down the stretch.
Points allowed (55.6, 1st nationally)
Points per game (66.6, 312th)
12. UNC-Wilmington (29-5, 15-3/Colonial Athletic Association)– Given a different draw, we would have enthusiastically endorsed UNC-Wilmington as a candidate to pull a first-round upset. But that might not be in the cards against Virginia.
This game will be a fascinating contrast in styles, as UNCW likes to run up and down the court, averaging 85.2 points per game, which ranks 10th nationally. It will be interesting to see how that matches up against Virginia’s super-methodical, 25-seconds-or-more approach on offense, and frustrating pack-line D.
The Seahawks gave Duke everything it could have wanted in the first round last year in Providence, falling 93-85. With most of that group back, including 6-5 sophomore C.J. Bryce (17.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg), and 6-1 senior Chris Flemmings (15.8 ppg), it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them push past Virginia and into the second round.
Points per game (85.2, 10th nationally)
Assists per game (16.1, 29th)
Points allowed 74.9 (241st)
PREDICTION: It hurts to pick against the Seahawks, who we’d tabbed as a potential Cinderella all year long. But this is a tough matchup for them. It’s always easier to slow a game down than speed one up, and when the team trying to slow the game down has more talent than the up-tempo squad, that spells trouble. It wouldn’t be stunning to see UNCW pull off the upset here, but we’ll take the Cavs. We think Virginia will beat Florida in Round 2 as well, before bowing out to No. 1 Villanova in the Sweet 16.