Despite falling to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament finale Saturday, Virginia earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region in the NCAA Tournament over Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State, marking the second time in three years that Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers have snagged a top seed in the NCAA tourney.
The team boasts a 26-7 record and is ranked third nationally in scoring defense, holding its opponents to only 59.7 points per game. Led by fifth-year senior Malcolm Brogdon, who was named an unprecedented ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the Cavaliers have a strong senior class in Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte—all of whom will be looking for their first national championship title this year.
Joining Virginia at the top of the bracket are fellow No. 1 seeds Kansas, North Carolina and Oregon. But the other top seeds aren’t Virginia’s only competition. For the third year in a row, Michigan State (29-5) has been placed in the same region as Virginia, raising Cavalier fans’ concerns about another early tournament exit.
In 2014, the fourth-seeded Spartans took down No. 1 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16 with a nail-biting 61-59 win.
The next year boded even worse for the Hoos, with Michigan State knocking Virginia out in the second round of the tournament. A rematch will occur this year if both teams make it to the Elite Eight.
At a pre-NCAA tournament press conference Monday, Brogdon emphasized that Michigan State was not yet on the team’s mind.
“It’s important for us to take this one game at a time and not worry about the past, and not get too far ahead of ourselves and worry about Michigan State or other teams, just take it one game at a time and worry about Hampton and do the best we can,” Brogdon says.
Although Coach Tony Bennett says a good performance in the NCAA would be a “terrific way” to end the season, he just wants the team to play hard.
“We’re gonna lay it on the line and play to the utmost of our abilities and as hard as we can,” Bennett says. “I have confidence in these guys. I think they’ve paid the price and worked hard, but everybody at this stage has—all the teams you play have.”
Virginia’s first game will be against No. 16 seed Hampton in the first round of the tournament at 3:10pm Thursday in Raleigh, North Carolina.