Published 9:35 PM EDT Mar 20, 2019
Virginia is boring.
Virginia isn't athletic.
Virginia is never a safe pick in March Madness.
Virginia will lose to a No. 16 seed again this year.
The Cavaliers (29-3) know what their doubters are thinking and saying. That's a problem for the rest of the bracket.
Once again, Virginia finds itself a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — a year after falling in a historic upset against No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County.
But here are four reasons why UVA won't relive last year's heartbreak and instead cut down the nets in April.
1. Fantastic three-point shooting. Virginia is shooting well from beyond the arc, ranking fourth in three-point field-goal percentage while making about nine triples per game. Virginia ranks second in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) with the team shooting 48 percent from the floor. Compare that to last year when Virginia ranked 214th nationally in three-point field goals and had the 314th ranked offense. UVA's Kyle Guy shoots 46 percent from three, De'Andre Hunter shoots 45 percent and Ty Jerome shoots 40 percent.
2. Last year's motivation. Virginia feels extra motivation after last year's disappointment. In November, Cavs point guard Ty Jerome said, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for March, getting back to that stage. I mean, we're still college kids. We hear everyone ripping us. I'd love to shut everyone up." All-American Kyle Guy is in agreement. "Pretty positive they're going to make an ESPN 30 for 30 on the (UMBC loss). We might as well make it a better story for us. ... For me, a national championship is the only way to shut everyone up."
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3. De'Andre Hunter. Hunter was out with an injury during the loss to UMBC. He has developed into an NBA lottery pick talent this season as a sophomore, with aggressiveness near the basket that is key from a go-to player. Hunter (15.1 ppg) is a 6-7 wing who is arguably the best talent Bennett has ever had in Charlottesville. He's UVA's biggest individual difference-maker this March.
4. The nation's best defense. The Cavaliers have led Division I in scoring defense for the past three years; this season, they've given up 55.1 points a game. Jerome, who leads the team in steals, said the key ingredient isn't just a system. "Honestly, what makes it so damn good isn't so much the scheme," he said in November. "Anyone can go out there and implement a pack-line D. It's what we do every day in practice, how disciplined and detail-oriented we are."