NCAA tournament team previews: Virginia Cavaliers
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 29-3 (16-2 ACC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 112.2 (27th)/85.4 (1st)
Seed: East No. 2
Impact player: Anthony Gill, junior, forward: 11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 122.0 offensive rating
The Case For: If defense does indeed win championships, then the Virginia Cavaliers are the best bet outside of Lexington. According to kenpom.com, Virginia enters the NCAA tournament with the top defense in college basketball—that's right, it's even more efficient than Kentucky's vaunted unit. The Cavaliers run the pack-line defense to near-perfection, preventing dribble penetration in the lane and doubling every post player who gets a touch in the paint. The uninitiated will point to their lowly offensive rebounding percentage and their lack of turnover creation, but that's part of the design—they sacrifice offensive rebounds in order to get set in their halfcourt defense, and they trade steals for disciplined perimeter protection.
Virginia's offensive efficiency ranking of 27 is also a little deceiving; it had been in the top 10 before All-America-caliber guard Justin Anderson was lost for a month with a broken finger and a subsequent emergency appendectomy. Still, the Cavs boast a balanced offense led by Gill. He, junior center Mike Tobey and senior forward Darion Atkins give Virginia a formidable presence in the paint. As a unit, the Cavaliers' offense rarely gives the ball away, avoids being blocked and shoots both twos (50.1%) and threes (36.1%) reasonably well. Including Anderson, they have a solid six-deep rotation of players with usage rates above 22% and offensive ratings north of 103.2.
The Case Against: Virginia is the greatest unknown of the NCAA tournament because of Anderson's health. He was on pace to be a first-team All-America before his February injury, and he looked weak in his ACC tournament return, going scoreless in two games over 26 minutes. He had spent his offseason working on his jump shot, and it paid off; he went from shooting 29.4% on threes last year to 46.9% this year. If his shooting touch doesn't return, Virginia will have to make do without by far its best perimeter threat. With a healthy Anderson, the Cavaliers could win the national title. (Remember that defensive profile from above? Yeah, that's pretty much the exact formula for beating Kentucky.) Without him, they could lose as early as the Round of 32, if they face a game Michigan State squad.