Two years ago, the Virginia Cavaliers were announced as a #1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, prompting joy from the Wahoo faithful thrilled with the team's sudden ascent from mediocrity to college basketball's elite.
This year, Virginia once again appeared on the NCAA Tournament one-line. The consensus reaction this time around, however, has been despair. How could the Committee have once again placed a somewhat underseeded Michigan State team, who ended UVA's past two seasons, in the Cavaliers' region?!
Here are four reasons why the Cavaliers' draw is not a disaster:
1. UVA may never play Michigan State.
Over the past 31 years, 47% of 2-seeds have made the Elite 8. Even if we assume that Michigan State is better than the typical 2-seed, 69% of 1-seeds have made it (and they've had the benefit of the easier draw that top seeds receive). FiveThirtyEight projects that the Spartans have a 60% probability of an Elite Eight berth, which seems reasonable, considering the relative weakness of the rest of the Midwest region.
So even if we assume that Virginia wins their first three NCAA Tournament games, the chances are still only marginally better than 50/50 that a dreaded rematch against MSU happens.
2. Teams that make the Elite 8 are generally very good anyway.
Okay, so say that the Hoos do manage to make the Elite Eight. And, what do you know, the Spartans are there too! Is Michigan State really so different from a "replacement-level" Elite Eight team?
The Spartans are ranked #3 on KenPom, the highest of the 2-seeds. But Villanova is #5 and Oklahoma is #7. If UVA had slipped to a #2 seed, they may have been matched up with KenPom #1 Kansas or #4 UNC. Elite Eight matchups are often against teams that are within the top eight in the nation. UVA may have a few percentage points higher probability of beating some of those other non-MSU teams, but especially if you also consider the chance that the Spartans lose early, the overall hit on UVA's probability of winning it all is low.
3. The rest of the region is manageable.
UVA didn't make the Elite Eight the past two seasons. The primary reason was that UVA got an unfavorable early-round matchup...against the Spartans. But Virginia avoided that same type of bad draw this time.
Assuming UVA takes care of business against Hampton, the Hoos would play the second-highest ranked 8-seed, Texas Tech, or the third-best 9-seed, Butler. Then, the Hoos would be in line to take on the second-best 4 seed, Iowa State, or the top 5-seed, Purdue.
The Hoos did not get saddled with a potential second-round game against KenPom #25 UConn, who is capable of making shots from 70 feet out. Kansas did. The Hoos don't have to play KenPom #8 Kentucky, who Vegas gave the 4th best chance to win it all. UNC did. UVA's region isn't the easiest. Purdue is a tough draw as a #5 seed, and Michigan State looms. But it's not the "Region of Death" either.
4. Michigan State doesn't "own" Virginia.
Losing in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons sucked, and Tom Izzo is obviously one of the nation's best coaches. But come on guys, the Spartans don't actually have some special power over UVA. In both instances, the Hoos lost tightly-contested games against a top-15 team. In 2014, Virginia made 36% of its 2s and 33% of its 3s and lost by 2. Last year, Virginia made 2 of 17 three-point attempts and lost by 6. Maybe this is the year that Virginia brings its "A game."
I get that we fans like to think about superstition and things like "bad ju-ju," but this two-game sample size in what were essentially toss-up games has no predictive power going forward. (If any two teams of similar abilities meet two times, there's going to be a 50% chance that one of the teams wins both times).
For the second time in three years, Virginia is an NCAA Tournament one seed. Let's enjoy the ride.