The 2017 NCAA Tournament kicked off Thursday with plenty of intrigue.
Two No. 12 seeds — Princeton and UNC Wilmington — pushed their opponents to the brink to ignitethe festivities, but Marial Shayok would not let No. 5 seed Virginia lose to Wilmington.
Shayok scored a career-high 23 points in a 76-71 win while proving to be the team's go-to scoring threat down the stretch.Shayok, who scored from all over the court, knocked down three of his five shots from beyond the arc.
The performance came out of nowhere. Shayok had mustered a combined 14 points in his last four games, struggling to even find minutes. But the Seahawks' loose defense suited Shayok's game perfectly, allowing him to find open spaces and take advantage of his versatility.
Shayok is a player who sometimes struggles to create his own shot, but the penetration and patience of point guard London Perrantes helped Shayok break out Thursday.
At one point this season, Perrantes looked like a one-man team offensively. He is the only player on the team averaging double-digit points per game, which is why a number of pundits and fans eyed UNC Wilmington as a juicy upset pick.
The Seahawkswon the tempo battle numerous times by forcing Virginia to run and take shots early in the shot clock. Unfortunately for Wilmington, the Seahawkswere unable to close out the 3-point line, and Virginia was on fire, draining over 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Virginia hasn't had a lot of NCAA Tournament success in recent seasons, even though it had been a No. 1 or 2 seed, but this group has a great chance to make at least the Sweet 16 after edging past Wilmington.
The Cavaliers' success hinges on players like Shayok and freshmanTy Jerome hitting outside shots. Perrantes is a dependable player, but If the Cavaliers want to make a deep run they will need to keep opposing defenses honest by having multiple scoring weapons.
So far, the NCAA Tournament has been relatively tame despite teasing madness. That suits Virginia's controlled approach just fine.