It’s been fun for the Cavaliers thus far this season. And how can they not be in a celebratory mood? After all, they’ve emerged as winners in 19 of their first 20 games of the season, beating teams like Maryland and Notre Dame along the way by a convincing average win margin of 19.1 points. They are now ranked third in the AP Top 25.
Things, however, have gotten serious for Tony Bennett and the rest of the Cavaliers as they are in the midst of a brutal three-game stretch that could make or break their quest for a top seed in the March Madness tournament. Currently behind the Wildcats in the rankings, Virginia is playing three top 15 teams opponents in a row. They’ve just lost to #4 Duke (69-63), and now face #12 North Carolina, and #9 Louisville in consecutive outings.
US sportsbook TopBet set the NCAA betting line for Virginia’s championship hopes at +900, making them third-favorites to cut down the nets in early April, but that could change dramatically during this stretch.
These three games are also a great barometer for how good Virginia’s defense is as it will be in for a rigorous acid test against those high-scoring teams. Both Duke and North Carolina put up 80 PPG while Louisville isn’t too shabby with a 73.4 PPG clip. Conversely, Virginia is tops in the NCAA in defense (49.2 points against per game) and their opponents’ 34.2 FG% is second lowest.
With all the focus on defense, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Cavs run one of the most efficient offenses in Division I. Virginia is inside the top 10 in offensive efficiency, scoring just 68.3 PPG because they like to play conservative basketball.
The Cavaliers are going to be led during this tough stretch by a pair of junior guards in Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon, who is scoring 13.9 PPG and 13.3 PPG, respectively.
Come Sunday, when the dust is settled on the Cavs’ toughest scheduling stretch of the season, we’ll know a lot more about this coming out than we did going in.