NCAA Tournament Preview: #1 Virginia vs. #16 Coastal Carolina

A look at Virginia's first NCAA opponent:

The Virginia Cavaliers begin their 2014 NCAA Tournament run against the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina, the #16 seed who earned their berth in the Big Dance after winning the Big South tournament.  The game is one of the first round's (yes, that's what I am calling the round-of-64) last, tipping off at about 9:30 on Friday; it will be televised by TBS.

The team is coached by Cliff Ellis, who is in his 7th year at the school (and making his first NCAA appearance there).  Ellis is best known for his time at Clemson, where he was the program's winningest coach; he was a Tiger from 1984-1994, taking home two ACC Coach of the Year Awards.  Then, he was a Tiger again, spending 10 successful years at Auburn before moving to Coastal Carolina.

By notching a #1 seed, Virginia has earned an opening game against one of the weakest teams in the field of 68.  Obviously, the team also earned the burden of holding up the perfect records of top-seeds against #16 seeds.  Yes, there's always a non-zero chance of an upset.  But, like the many #1-seeded teams before them, the Hoos should simply overpower Coastal Carolina.  Here's what to expect:

Coastal Carolina's Season: The Chanticleers play 16 of their games against the Big South conference, one of the weakest in the nation.  Coastal put up an 11-5 conference record, as 7 of the conference's 12 teams finished with between 10 and 12 wins.  The Big South tournament took place on their home court, and Coastal Carolina took advantage; they defeated Charleston Southern in double OT and slid by VMI by 4 points, before beat Winthrop by 15 to claim the title.  During conference play, Coastal's best win was on the road against KenPom #220 VMI.  They took 5 losses, 2 at home, with all coming to teams ranked between #220 and #245 on KenPom.

In the out-of-conference, the Chanticleers played 3 games against top-100 teams: they lost at Clemson by 29 and Minnesota by 10, but put up a fight against Ole Miss at home, falling 72-70.  Outside the Big South, they were also swept in two games by #344 South Carolina State (including a 10 point home loss), while their best win came against Saint Francis.

The takeaway? Coastal Carolina is a 16 seed for a reason. They are well-coached, went 21-12, and won their conference...but all that came against a miserable schedule that featured no notable wins and a few awful losses.

Coastal Carolina's Mascot: Per the school's website, the Chanticleer is "a proud and fierce rooster who dominates the barnyard."  So, there's that.

Coastal Carolina's Offense:

Category Value Rank
Adj. Efficiency 97.4 296
Effective FG % 47.9 244
Turnover % 20.4 297
Offensive Reb. % 34.8 67
Free-Throw Rate 38.9 220

As you can see here, Coastal's offense is not good. Per KenPom's adjusted efficiency rankings, it's by far the tournament's worst.  They don't shoot well, they turn the ball over like crazy, and they don't get to the line.  As a consolation, the team does crash the offensive glass, and will probably attempt to do so hard against Virginia. But they also haven't faced a defensive rebounding team as good as the Hoos. For that matter, they haven't faced a defense as good; the closest encounter they had was against Clemson, where they scored .61 PPP.

Junior PG Josh Cameron is the team's most prominent offensive weapon, taking on heavy (27.6%) usage.  He takes a decent amount of his shots from behind the arc and makes them at a respectable 37.3% clip, but is just barely better from two-point range, where he's made 38.5% of his shots. During the Big South tournament, he was a tad more efficient than that and finished each of the 3 games with between 17 and 20 points.

Guards Warren Gillis and Elijah Wilson are marginally more efficient that Cameron, each taking a high volume of two-pointers with an eFG% at 50%.  Wilson has shown the team's beat ability to get to the rim, but also takes a lot of three-pointers, while making them at a low clip.  The team emphasizes their guards over getting the ball to the post, where 6'10" El Hadji Ndieguene from Senegal is a strong rebounder but doesn't score much; he does seem like seem like a cool guy though.

Coastal Carolina should struggle to score against UVA, who has smothered other high-turnover offenses they've faced this year. Virginia played 5 other opponents with offenses ranked worse than 250 on KenPom this season, and they scored 41, 40, 42, 45, and 53 points (the last 2 were Virginia Tech).

Coastal Carolina's Defense:

Category Value Rank
Adj. Efficiency 102.4 124
Effective FG % 47.2 79
Turnover % 18.5 160
Offensive Reb. % 29.9 104
Free-Throw Rate 39.1 149

The Chanicleers won the Big South and made the NCAAs because of their defense.  In terms of college basketball as a whole, we'd call it "a bit above average."  But, relative to the rest of their conference, it is outstanding, by far the best in a what is an offense-heavy conference.  Coach Ellis has his team defending hard.  They'll show a variety of looks against UVA.  While they haven't faced an offense as good as the Hoos' all season, they are coming in hot, allowing just .89 PPP during their current 5-game winning streak.

Predictions:

KenPom has UVA as a 69-52 favorite (with a 97% chance of victory), and the Hoos are 21 point favorites in Vegas.  For a 16 seed to beat a 1 seed, the 16 has to shoot absolutely lights out and the 1 has to play terribly.  While Coastal Carolina's having a great year and are very well-coached, this just doesn't seem to be the time that a #16 will pull the upset.  As noted above, Virginia has stifled weaker offenses all year. The Chanticleers will really have to play well to break 50 points, and there's no reason to expect the Wahoo offense, which has been on fire lately, to come up short.

A few goofballs have "picked" Coastal Carolina as means to get some attention.  Ignore them.  While we can always worry about the ~1% of disaster, the Hoos should roll easily, as they have all year against weaker opposition.

Coastal Carolina takes an early 6-2 lead, Wahoo fans all have a panic attack, then the Hoos steamroll to a 68-44 victory.

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