Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball has been on the doorstep of the Final Four in recent seasons under Tony Bennett. But in three of the last four years, Virginia has lost to a lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Barring a late-season collapse, the Cavaliers will be a No. 1 seed for the third time since 2014. Yet Virginia last advanced to the Final Four in 1984.
But college basketball analyst Brendan Haywood said this week there is a “very good chance” that not only will Virginia break through and advance to the Final Four for the first time in 34 years, the Cavaliers could also win the program’s first national championship.
“Virginia’s defense will keep them in any basketball game,” Haywood said. “I think they have as good of a shot as anybody else, probably the best shot ever for Virginia, to win the national championship.”
Once again, the Cavaliers’ bread and butter is their defense. Virginia is allowing 52.7 points per game, which is the lowest total in the country by nearly 5.0 points per contest. In conference play, the Cavaliers are yielding 53.2 points per game, which is almost 12.0 points per contest better than any other ACC team.
But Bennett’s teams always play strong defense. Haywood argued the difference between this year’s team and previous ones is their ability to play with the most talented rosters in the country.
“They’ve proved even playing against NBA talent this year – when they played Duke, and they played Duke at Duke – that they can beat anybody. This Duke team, one of the best teams in the country, had 22 points at halftime.
“If you can limit Duke offensively, then you can limit anybody offensively.”
The Blue Devils scored 41 points in the second half against the Cavaliers, but Virginia still limited Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium to just 63 points. Duke has been held under 70 points just one other time this season.
Part of Virginia’s recipe for success is slowing the pace down to a bear crawl. That’s helped the Cavaliers hold the other four ranked teams in the ACC – Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State – to an average of 50.75 points per game. All four of those teams posted their lowest point total of the season against the Cavaliers.
But Haywood’s biggest concern for Virginia is how they will fare if another team forces them to speed up.
“What happens is if you (Virginia) get down double figures, you have to play faster, you have to play at a different speed than you’re used to, and that’s when things can get dicey.
“Can they come back from that (a double-digit deficit)? Can they generate enough offense.”
Two years ago, Virginia advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995 and held a 15-point lead versus Syracuse in the second half. But then Jim Boeheim started pressing, which sped up the pace of the game. At the faster speed, Virginia began turning the ball over and making mistakes, leading to an Orange comeback.
Although that occurred with Virginia leading and not trailing by double digits, it’s exactly the fear Haywood spoke about with Diehards.com. The Cavaliers will need to avoid that type of disaster in the 2018 tournament to earn the program’s third trip to the Final Four.
The post CBS analyst Brendan Haywood: Virginia has ‘best shot ever’ to win national championship appeared first on Diehards.
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