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COMEY: Finding comfort ahead of Virginia’s Iowa State matchup

With less than 24 hours to go before Virginia’s Sweet 16 matchup against Big 12 heavyweight Iowa State, I’m in full stressed out mode. While the Cavaliers have already avoided the worst case scenario losses with a successful opening NCAA Tournament weekend, there’s still work to be done to justify their seed.

To ease my stress, and hopefully yours, I find comfort in numbers — almost all of which favor Virginia throughout the weekend. Here’s a list of the most reassuring stats that I’ll be reading over and over again during the next 24 hours or so to keep me calm, cool and collected.

1. Vegas and statistical models really likes our chances this weekend

Pundits can put the Cavaliers (28-7) on upset alert all they want (not that it’s actually happening this week), but Vegas would call you crazy to take Iowa State straight up. As of the time I’m writing, Bovada has Virginia as a five point favorite, and sits behind only North Carolina and Kansas as the most heavily favored team in the Sweet Sixteen.

Looking ahead, Virginia is the favorite to come out of the Midwest region at -110 — the same odds Kansas has to escape the South. The Cavaliers are also +550 to win the entire thing, slightly behind only the Jayhawks and Tar Heels.

Another way to objectively evaluate our chances is to see how the various basketball statistical models judge the matchup, and all the big ones have Virginia with high odds of coming out on top Friday night. KenPom gives us a 70 percent chance, ESPN’s BPI gives us a 67 percent chance, and FiveThirtyEight gives us a 65 percent chance.

2. Iowa State doesn’t perform well against top defenses

Despite ranking second in the country in offensive efficiency, the Cyclones have struggled against great defensive teams. The Cyclones (23-11) have matched up with a top-20 defensive team nine times this season, and their record in those games was an unimpressive 3-6, with both wins coming at home, according to KenPom.

Iowa State has lost by double digits only twice this season, coming against West Virginia and Texas A&M — two teams that rank inside the top 15 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. The Cyclones haven’t seen a team as good as Virginia on defense all year, and I don’t think they’re going to like it. Iowa State lives by an up-tempo offense — the type of play the Cavaliers are known for shutting down.

The Cyclones haven’t been great against top teams in general. They’re 3-8 against ranked opponents, and if you exclude the month of January, their best win of the season is against either Texas or Iowa. While that “exclude the month of January” is a huge caveat — they came away with home wins against Kansas and Oklahoma — the Cyclones have done little to prove themselves in the past two months.

3. Virginia is really good at basketball

While I often get bogged down in evaluating the quality of the opponent, let’s not forget how good this Virginia team has been. Just looking at their record: the Cavaliers are 8-3 against teams currently in the top 25, 13-1 against non-conference opponents and 8-1 on a neutral court — all of that coming with the toughest strength of schedule in basketball, according to the RPI.

The Cavaliers are just one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in both KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency. They rank second in the nation in opponent points per game and seventh in the nation in field goal percentage — a completely balanced attack.

The team is experienced, with four seniors that get extended playing time. The team is deep, with eight players typically seeing the floor for at least 10 minutes a game. And the team is talented, with three All-ACC selections this year. Oh yeah, and they’re led by the first ever ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year combined selection, who also happens to be an All-American and Wooden Award finalist.

4. Quick facts

-Due to a couple of big upsets, the Midwest has the highest combined sum of seeds remaining at 26, making Virginia’s road to the Final Four much easier than it could have been.

-Upset favorite Gonzaga might not be as good as they appear. Their biggest tournament win came against No. 3 seed Utah, but if the opening weekend taught us anything it was how weak the Pac-12 was this year.

-The Cyclones are only eight players deep right now, and only seven have averaged more than six minutes per game in the postseason.

-Iowa State is No. 247 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 74.7 points a game. Virginia hasn’t lost to a team with a scoring defense that bad since it fell to Wake Forest in 2011.