March Madness Betting — Who Can Challenge Virginia in the South Region?


What makes this South region especially interesting is that you’ve got the presence of three of the top four defensive teams in the country, as they are measured by the highly-respected analytics site Virginia is the team on top; they are #1 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the #1 seed in the region, and the #1 team in the country. They are the team with the shortest odds to win the South and advance to the Final Four, as they are +135 at VietBet. You can also bet against them winning; that price is -155. All of the teams are a two-way proposition in each of the four regions.

Virginia isn’t especially athletic; nor to they have a superstar scorer. So what is it that makes them so effective? Well, you can legitimately refer to them as a “system” team, only that the system in place is on the defensive end. Coach Tony Bennett employs something called the “Pack Line” defense, which was essentially “invented,” or at last refined, by his his father Dick, who coached at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin and Washington State.

What it involves is “man pressure” on the ball, with the other four defenders staying to within a few feet of the three-point arc. The objective is that this configuration will allow the defenders to collapse and prevent people from driving freely to the hoop, while at the same time affording the opportunity to run out to contest three-pointers rather easily. Of course, everything is easier when it is drawn up on the whiteboard; this takes a lot of discipline. But if it’s executed correctly, it is very frustrating to deal with. All season long, Virginia has been among the top ten teams in the country defending shots both inside AND outside the three-point arc.

They’ve taken some pretty good teams and flummoxed them. Clemson scored only 36 points. North Carolina, the defending national champs, had only 49. Miami scored 50; Rhode Island 55. Syracuse tallied just 44. And not for nothing, but Savannah State, which was second in the nation in scoring and had the fastest Adjusted Tempo, managed only 47 points, making just FIVE field goals inside of the arc.

Okay, they’re good. We’ve concluded that. So can someone in this region beat them?

Well, Cincinnati (+305) and Tennessee (+700) are second and fourth, respectively, in KenPom’s ranking of defensive efficiency. Kentucky, priced at +850 to win the South region at VietBet, could make a run if all their young talent takes things to a new level at once.

But I think that Arizona, the #4 seed, which is +570 to get through this group of sixteen and get to the Final Four, may offer some value. If anything can potentially beat the Pack Line, it’s effective size, and that is something the Wildcats have. With 64 points and 32 rebounds in his last two Pac 12 tournament games, DeAndre Ayton is looking very much like the best player in America right now. He doesn’t need to work his way inside; he can park himself in the low post, and if he’s not enough, they’ve got a second seven-footer in Dusan Ristic to occupy Virginia’s defenders. In addition to those guys, the Cavaliers will have to deal with the likes of Alfonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, who are two of the best players in the country, and 6-5 guards to boot. Remember, you can’t teach size. Arizona doesn’t have to get hot from three-point range; they can conceivably put more great offensive talent inside the arc than Virginia can handle.

And about that whole business with the bribes and the payoffs and the wiretaps that coach Sean Miller can allegedly be heard on?

Right now these guys couldn’t care less about all that. C’mon – it’s March Madness.

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