Michigan State is the most popular underdog on today’s NCAA Tournament slate, which is not surprising in light of Tom Izzo’s unprecedented postseason success. But, when the public starts lining up behind a rare underdog, it’s time to start looking at the favorite. With the return of Justin Anderson, who looked completely healthy against Belmont, Virginia once again as the requisite depth and athleticism to make a legitimate run for the national championship. Indeed, Anderson is averaging 12.4 points per game on 47.2% shooting from the floor and 47.0% from three-point territory.
Virginia’s success is predicated upon a suffocating defense that is allowing 51.2 points per game (36.6% FG; 30.4% 3-PT) to teams that would combine to average 68.5 points per game. The Cavaliers were also 15-2 SU and 11-6 ATS on the road this season where they limited opponents to just 54.2 points per game on 37.9% shooting from the field and 29.1% from beyond the arc.
Overall, the Cavaliers are 17.3 points per game better than average defensively, which is good enough to frustrate a solid Michigan State attack that is 7.0 points per game better than average (71.8 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 64.8 points per game).
How good is Virginia’s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers are ranked #1 in scoring defense, #3 in field goal percentage defense, #4 in personal fouls per game (14.1), #8 in fewest fouls (466) and #10 in rebound margin (+7.8). While Virginia’s stop unit is one of the best in the nation, the Cavaliers’ offense leaves little to be desired.
The Cavaliers are averaging 65.8 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 65.7 points per game to a mediocre offensive squad. The good news for Virginia backers is the fact that Tony Bennett’s squad is shooting 46.8% from the field and 37.3% from beyond the arc away from home this season.
I also like the fact that Virginia is 5th in the nation in turnovers per game (9.4) so they won’t hurt themselves on the court. In addition, the Cavaliers possess a significant advantage at the free throw line:
Free Throw Shooting
72.8% overall this season
74.5% on the road
76.7% over the last five games
63.1% overall this season
65.6% on the road
64.0% over the last five games
From a technical standpoint, Virginia is undervalued by the betting market as evidenced by its 36-25 ATS record over the last two seasons. The Cavaliers are also 11-3 ATS with one or less day of rest, 34-19 ATS following a double-digit win, 18-7-1 ATS after failing to cover the point spread and 30-13-2 ATS versus teams with a winning record, including 21-9-2 ATS versus .601 or greater opposition.
Conversely, the Spartans are 2-5 ATS versus ACC foes, 3-8-1 ATS in their last twelve neutral site games and 1-4-1 ATS in their last six NCAA Tournament games. With Virginia head coach Tony Bennett standing at 4-1 ATS as a favorite of more than two points in the NCAA Tournament, take the Cavaliers and invest with confidence.