NCAA Tournament Predictions: 4. Virginia vs. 13. Furman

4.Virginia (25-7, 15-5/ACC)- You can’t talk about this season of Virginia basketball without first acknowledging the horrendous and appalling tragedy that took place at the school on Nov. 13. Galvanized by a resolve to honor those lost in that senseless incident, Virginia has played with a sense of purpose and intention that’s been noticeable even to those on the outside.

Head coach Tony Bennett has built a tremendous program that despite winning the national championship in 2019, has a bit of a deserved reputation for losing early in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers haven’t been out of the first round since winning the whole thing, and the year before that, they became the first No. 1 seed in history to lose to a 16.

Could they be headed for another early exit? Well, that’s between you and your bracket. But with senior guards Kihei Clark (10.9 ppg) and Armaan Franklin (12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) leading the way and a defense that ranks ninth in the country (allowing 60.5 ppg), this team has what it takes to make a deep run.

13. Furman (27-7, 15-3/Southern Conference)- Like many of the automatic mid-major qualifiers, Furman used a prolific offense to speed past the competition in the Southern Conference. The Paladins average 82.1 points per game, which ranks 14th in the entire nation. They’re efficient, shooting over 48 percent as a team (18th in the country). Senior guard Mike Bothwell leads the way at 18 points per game, while 6-7 senior forward Jalen Swanson (15.7 ppg, 7 rpg) is also a major scoring threat. If you’re going to beat the Paladins, there are several guys you need to slow down.

Head coach Bob Richey has been steadily building this program, which had long been a Southern Conference doormat and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1980. This season is the culmination of a long build, and Richey has been named a finalist for National Coach of the Year.