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Sunday, March 19, 2023

Is Virginia a true title contender in college basketball?

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Almost every year the Virginia Cavaliers find themselves in the “Are they legitimate?” discussion. This year, however, is slightly different for UVA. It currently sits at 19-1 and is ranked No. 2 in the country. Its only loss came against West Virginia, who’s now the No. 7 team in the country, in Morgantown.
The most points the Hoos have given up this year so far is 68. Per usual, they’re also the top-ranked defense in the country.
Under the leadership of Tony Bennett, this team is ready to contend for the national championship, but that could quickly change in the coming weeks.
Even during a down year like the 2016-17 season for UVA, it still had the nation’s best defense. Defense wins championships, and the pack-line defense has stifled almost every team UVA has played against this year. Not many teams are able to crack it, but it’s been the cornerstone of UVA basketball in recent years.
Virginia had no big-name recruits coming in. Many tabbed it to finish in the middle of the pack of the ACC while earning an eight or nine seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s been the chip on the Cavs’ shoulder all season long, and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon.
Sophomore guard Kyle Guy has improved drastically this year. Guy leads the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game, 7.7 more than what he averaged last season. But it’s not just the Guy show for UVA, as Devon Hall, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter all pitch in at least 8 points per game. This is all while the team allows an NCAA-best 51.6 points per game.
To further prove how good the Cavaliers’ defense is, No. 18 Clemson averages 74.9 points per game. They scored just 36 against Virginia on Tuesday and had 16 points in the final 28:36 of the game.
There are still some hesitancies when it comes to labeling UVA a true title contender. It’s the same reason why they were embarrassed on the national stage against Florida last season, losing 65-39 — can they score? While defense wins championships, the offense has to be there.
UVA averages 69.2 points per game, which is tied for 289th in the country. At some point it will face a team that hits its shots, meaning the Cavaliers will have to rely on their own offense.
Virginia has quality wins over No. 10 North Carolina and Clemson, while its only loss was a close one at West Virginia. Its biggest test comes this Saturday as they’ll travel to high-powered No. 4 Duke.
So is UVA a legitimate title contender? If it can keep up its suffocating defense while having guys like Guy and Hall score, it can beat any team in the country. The biggest thing that could go against them is, again, what happens if a team catches fire and requires Bennett’s men to outscore them instead of winning the game on defense?
The game against Duke will be the true indicator of where UVA stands from a championship standpoint. A win or close loss shows it’s more than ready, but if they’re blown out of Cameron Indoor, it’s going to have to do a lot to convince people it’s a candidate for the national championship.

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