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Analysis | NCAA tournament bracketology: Oh, look, here comes Virginia

Analysis | NCAA tournament bracketology: Oh, look, here comes Virginia

طوبیٰ Tooba 55 years ago 0 1

We’ve seen this script before from Virginia.

The Cavaliers bobbed along in the first half of the season, winning a few games of note but nothing that demanded a great deal of attention. They struggled a bit to open ACC play, but come late January they started to find a stride. A stingier-than-usual defense made up for an offense that, put kindly, could be disjointed for long stretches.

Sounds like this year’s edition of Virginia, right? And it is. But it was also roughly the same season arc the Cavaliers took in 2020, when offense came so hard for them after a talent exodus in the wake of winning a national title. The Hoos’ NCAA tournament hopes were wobbly as they scratched out a 4-4 start in the ACC before winning 11 of their last 12.

Of course, that story never had any closure because the coronavirus pandemic halted the season. But Virginia is following a similar path.

The Cavaliers (18-5, 9-3) have ripped off seven victories in a row, including Monday’s 60-38 suffocation of Miami. (It was the Hurricanes’ lowest point total since 1948). Their defense might not be quite at the levels they achieved in 2020, but it’s as close as they’ve gotten since then.

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The offense (which won’t be mistaken for a machine but is considerably better than its 2020 counterparts) has settled into a string of effective outings, with a 59-53 overtime defeat of N.C. State on Jan. 24 an exception. Virginia has a lead guard in Reece Beekman and plenty of complementary pieces.

Oh, and its NCAA tournament profile is looking better by the day.

No, the Cavaliers don’t have much in the way of elite victories, but Saturday’s triumph at Clemson was a fine accomplishment. A November victory over Florida has only grown in value, and the only truly regrettable loss on the ledger was a Dec. 30 blowout at Notre Dame (which, with a highly competent defense and a poor offense, is sort of a rebuilding man’s 2020 Virginia).

Nearly four years ago, Virginia was pegged as a No. 7 seed in The Washington Post’s final bracket projection before the world ground to a standstill. The Cavaliers are a bit ahead of schedule, and they’ve clearly figured things out. Virginia reenters this week’s bracket projection, and chances are it won’t fall out again the rest of the way.

Last four included: Wake Forest, Florida, Texas A&M, St. John’s

First four on the outside: Butler, Providence, Colorado, Kansas State

Next four on the outside: Villanova, Nevada, Memphis, James Madison

Moving in: Florida, Merrimack, Oakland, Texas, Virginia, Washington State

Moving out: Central Connecticut, Kansas State, Memphis, Providence, Richmond, Youngstown State

Conference call: Big 12 (10), SEC (9), Big Ten (6), Big East (5), ACC (5), Mountain West (5), Pac-12 (3)

Bracket projection: Midwest vs. West; East vs. South

(1) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Eastern Kentucky-SOUTHWESTERN/Southern winner

(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) MISSOURI VALLEY/Indiana State

(5) San Diego State vs. (12) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

(4) Auburn vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/Louisiana Tech

(3) Baylor vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Morehead State

(6) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (11) Washington State

(7) Mississippi vs. (10) Virginia

(2) Marquette vs. (15) COASTAL/Drexel

With its victory at Wisconsin on Sunday, Purdue has defeated five of the top 13 teams in the NET in road or neutral settings. (It also beat Alabama, Arizona, Marquette and Tennessee on neutral courts). The top of the Boilermakers’ profile would be absurdly strong by Selection Sunday standards, let alone by what could usually be expected by early February. … Auburn has a Quadrant 1 victory after beating Mississippi in Oxford on Saturday. The Tigers’ numbers still outpace their accomplishments to this point. …

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Washington State enters The Post’s projection, and maybe a week too late. The Cougars have a signature victory (Arizona), winning records against both Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2, a .500 road record and not much to hold against it besides a neutral-site loss to a borderline top-100 Santa Clara team. … Marquette, winners of six in a row, gets four of its next six at home. But the news isn’t all good. The Golden Eagles are done with Georgetown, which it trounced by at least 30 in both meetings.

(1) ACC/North Carolina vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Merrimack-MID-EASTERN/Norfolk State winner

(8) Texas Christian vs. (9) Michigan State

(5) South Carolina vs. (12) SUN BELT/Appalachian State

(4) Brigham Young vs. (13) SOUTHERN/Samford

(3) SEC/Alabama vs. (14) BIG SOUTH/High Point

(6) MOUNTAIN WEST/Utah State vs. (11) Seton Hall

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Northwestern

(2) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (15) BIG SKY/Eastern Washington

So far, somewhere in an 8/9 game is Michigan State’s level. It is 2-7 in Quadrant 1 games (beating Baylor in Detroit and Indiana State at home) and 12-1 against everyone else. Its Quad 2 triumphs are against Butler at home and at Maryland. … Appalachian State has a few shaky losses on its profile, but its victory over Auburn on Dec. 3 will surely stand out to the committee if it can win the Sun Belt. That alone might be worth a seed line. …

Alabama entered Monday in the top 13 of all five metrics listed on the NCAA’s team sheets. That’s a hard thing for the committee to ignore. … Northwestern’s four Quad 1 victories buy it some grace even after a week when it lost at both Purdue (in overtime) and Minnesota.

(1) BIG EAST/Connecticut vs. (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Quinnipiac

(8) Boise State vs. (9) Nebraska

(5) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Florida Atlantic vs. (12) Florida/St. John’s winner

(4) Duke vs. (13) IVY/Cornell

(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

(6) Kentucky vs. (11) Cincinnati

(7) New Mexico vs. (10) Mississippi State

(2) Kansas vs. (15) HORIZON/Oakland

Boise State did plenty of good work in January, going 4-1 in what are (for now) Quad 1 games, including victories at Nevada and New Mexico. The Broncos missed some opportunities in nonconference play, but they’re now squarely in the middle of the bracket and far from the at-large cut line. … Florida’s victory at Kentucky checked a major box for the Gators. There still isn’t much oomph at the top of their résumé, but their team sheet metrics were all in the top 40 entering Monday and they have no bad losses. That’s a ticket for at least getting a place in Dayton, if not direct entry to the round of 64. …

Back-to-back losses did some damage to Kentucky’s seeding. The Wildcats don’t rank in the top 20 of any of the five team sheet metrics. … Hard to believe Oakland — which last made the NCAA tournament in 2011 — has never won the Horizon League. The Grizzlies have won at least 10 conference games in nine of the past 10 years, including a 10-3 mark this season that has them tied for first with Green Bay. …

(1) BIG 12/Houston vs. (16) SUMMIT/South Dakota State

(5) Creighton vs. (12) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Grand Canyon

(4) Illinois vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/McNeese State

(3) Iowa State vs. (14) MID-AMERICAN/Akron

(6) Colorado State vs. (11) Texas A&M-Wake Forest winner

(7) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s vs. (10) Texas

(2) Tennessee vs. (15) PATRIOT/Colgate

Utah is 6-0 at home in Pac-12 play, 0-5 on the road. The Utes would be well served to continue the first part of that trend with Arizona coming to Salt Lake City on Thursday. … After squandering a double-digit lead at home Friday against Butler, Creighton has four of the next six on the road (with Connecticut one of the teams coming to Omaha). Feels like the next three weeks will provide a barometer on the Bluejays. …

Wake Forest is Florida without the freshly earned high-end victory. But the Demon Deacons do have a victory over the Gators, so that counts for something. … Saint Mary’s edged Gonzaga in the Kennel on Saturday and is two games clear of both the Bulldogs and San Francisco in the WCC. The Gaels have an actual at-large case that goes beyond metrics, and Gonzaga does not.

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