The No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers captured their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in nearly 40 years, have gone 18-1 in their last 19 games, largely coasted in their first two games of the tournament by shooting 46 percent from three, and yet they are still two-point underdogs to No. 4 seed Michigan State.
The Cavaliers are the only No. 1 seed that isn’t favored during the second weekend of the tournament, but that’s more a reflection of the Spartans recent and past performances in the tournament.
Head coach Tom Izzo's squads have made the Sweet 16 in 12 of the last 17 seasons, and blew past Delaware with a career-best 41 points from forward Adreian Payne in the second round and held back a pesky Harvard squad in the closing minutes of the third round.
Payne didn’t equal his second round performance, but junior swingman Branden Dawson scored a career-best 26 points with nine rebounds against Harvard and regular season leading scorer and sophomore guard Garry Harris recorded 18 points, five assists and three steals for his 12th straight double-digit scoring output.
The history may be stacked against Virginia but the team is riding high in its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1995, and has the defensive prowess to lock down the Spartans.
Virginia ranked first in the ACC in defense, surrendering a mere 55.5 points per game and opponents shot 38.6 percent from the floor. The Cavaliers were also first in defensive rebounds with 29.3 per game.
The Cavaliers pressure upfront begins with top guards Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris. The duo leads the team in scoring and are first and second in steals, respectively, this season.
Freshman point guard London Perrantes was 10th in the ACC with 3.8 assists per game, and ranked second in assist-to-turnover ratio at an efficient 3.6.
The Cavaliers also have some depth to rely on for more scoring punch. Brogdon and Harris have combined to average more than 23 points per game, but Virginia, which has scored a total of 148 points in two tournament games, received a boost from other scorers.
Sophomore forward Anthony Gill came off the bench for 18 points in the second round win over Coastal Carolina and added another 13 points against Memphis on Sunday. Reserve guard Justin Anderson also had a strong game against the Tigers to contribute 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The winner will take on either No. 3 Iowa State or No. 7 UConn in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Time: Friday, 9:55 p.m. EST
TV Channel: TBS
Betting Odds: Michigan State -2
Over/Under: 127 points
Prediction: Michigan State over Virginia, 60-53