After closing out the final week of the regular season with home victories over Clemson and Louisville, Virginia men’s basketball enters the ACC Tournament as regular season co-champions and the No. 2 seed.
Since the top four seeds in the ACC receive double-byes, the Cavaliers will get to bypass the first two rounds and head straight for the quarterfinals Thursday. By that point, there will only be three possible games left for Virginia to play.
Although they will not take the hardwood many more times before the NCAA Tournament kicks off next week, there is still time for the Cavaliers to climb the bracket’s seeding ladder. Most bracketing metrics — such as the likes of ESPN and CBS — are currently slotting Virginia in as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However, that number may change depending on how the ACC Tournament plays out for the Cavaliers. Let’s take a look at Virginia’s potential scenarios this week, and where they may end up in the case of each one.
The Cavaliers’ potential opponents in the quarterfinals are No. 7 North Carolina and No. 10 Boston College, who play Wednesday for a trip to the quarterfinal round. The most likely foe is the Tar Heels, and in the case of a defeat to North Carolina, Virginia could be in jeopardy of slipping down to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The good news there for the Cavaliers is that a matchup with the Tar Heels would constitute a Quadrant 1 contest. On a neutral court, Virginia’s opponent simply has to be inside the top 50 of the NCAA’s NET Rankings in order for the game to qualify as Quadrant 1. From a basketball perspective, although the Cavaliers just lost to North Carolina, the Tar Heels shot unusually well in the matchup. If the opponent regresses to the mean, Virginia has a good chance to advance.
With North Carolina firmly at No. 49 in the NET, a loss Thursday for the Cavaliers would not be looked at as a disaster by the NCAA. However, the Eagles and the Cardinals both sit far outside the top 50, meaning defeats to either would surely send Virginia down to the No. 5 line.
If the Cavaliers do meet the Tar Heels in the quarterfinals and manage to advance, their risk of being bumped down from No. 4 should be fairly withered away. They would then set sail on an attempt to move up to a No. 3 seed.
That attempt would certainly fall short if they bowed out in the semifinals, in which their possible opponents include No. 3 Clemson, No. 6 NC State and No. 11 Virginia Tech. Out of the possible opponents, Virginia actually is undefeated against each except for the Hokies, so the Cavaliers would likely be content with either the Wolfpack or the Tigers as their foe.
But if their quarterfinal victory came against Boston College, a win that would not hold much weight, Virginia may still be at risk of moving down. In this case, losses to any of its four potential semifinal opponents would put them at this risk.
The Wolfpack are ranked the highest in the NET at No. 41, and pose the only potential Quad 1 game in this round for the Cavaliers. In the event of a defeat, they would be the most ideal team to knock Virginia out. Losses to any of the other three squads could do serious damage.
Barring an unforeseen surprise on the other side of the bracket, an appearance in the ACC Championship would most likely represent a Quad 1 matchup for the Cavaliers. No. 1 Miami and No. 4 Duke — No. 35, and No. 24 in the NET, respectively — are the most probable opponents in this situation.
Getting to this point and losing – even if it included wins over North Carolina and NC State – would still not be enough for Virginia to reach the No. 3 line. But it should silence any remaining doubts about their chances of dropping from No. 4.
Neither the Hurricanes nor the Blue Devils pose easy wins for Virginia. The Cavaliers lost their only matchup to Miami, and they gained a close victory at home against Duke that went to the final seconds. The potential opponents pose opposite threats — Miami plays very small, while Duke’s frontcourt is its strength — but Virginia would likely rather see the Hurricanes even though it lost earlier in the season.
An ACC Tournament title is likely the only avenue for the Cavaliers to creep up to a No. 3 seed. Three Quad 1 victories and a statement as the ACC’s top team should get them there, but if the road to the title is on the easier side, it may be up for debate.
It’s worth noting that the performance of other teams in their respective conference tournaments will also impact where Virginia ends up next week. The likes of Indiana, Xavier, Tennessee, Connecticut and many others will all be fighting for the same thing as the Cavaliers.
The Importance of a Higher Seed
As for why the difference between a No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seed matters, the statistics tell the story. According to an analysis done by BetFirm, 78.5 percent of No. 4 seeds advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament compared to just 64.6 percent of No. 5 seeds.
That number hikes up to 84.7 percent for No. 3 seeds. In fact, across the board, No. 3 seeds are more likely to advance to each round of the tournament than are No. 4 seeds and No. 5 seeds. The same holds for the comparison between teams on the No. 4 line and No. 5 line, all the way up until the championship game.
All in all, the importance of the Cavaliers’ performance in the upcoming ACC Tournament cannot be understated. It would be a grand achievement for Virginia to complete the season with both regular season and tournament titles in the conference, but its chances at success in March Madness also rely heavily on how they fare next week.
Cavalier fans, as well as the NCAA Selection Committee, will be watching closely.