The Virginia Cavaliers' status as the top team in the Midwest Region was threatened for the majority of Saturday's showdown with the No. 9-seeded Butler Bulldogs, but the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers used a sterling second-half run to capture a 77-69 win and lock up a spot in the Sweet 16.
By virtue of the win, Virginia will square off against the No. 4-seeded Iowa State Cyclones in Chicago on March 25.
Although the Cavaliers had mustered just 23 points and trailed by two at halftime, their offense experienced an awakening over the game's final 20 minutes, pouring in 54 points to silence a Butler attack led by Andrew Chrabascz.
Chrabascz topped all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three-point range, but the junior fell silent after Virginia switched ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon onto him during crucial stretches of the second half, per Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis:
Amazing how Malcolm Brogdon has just made Chrabascz disappear.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 20, 2016
Unlike the Bulldogs, who featured just two double-figure scorers, the Cavaliers touted a multipronged attack led by Brogdon (22 points), Marial Shayok (12 points), Mike Tobey (10 points) and Anthony Gill, who was a ball of pure energy with 19 points and seven boards, including a huge and-1 conversion late in the second half.
However, Virginia was in danger before finding a late groove.
Playing a composed brand of ball buoyed by a bunch of experienced bodies, Butler was able to put the clamps on seemingly every Cavaliers scorer not named Brogdon throughout the first half. Not only did Butler hold Virginia to 41.7 percent shooting throughout the game's opening 20 minutes, but the Bulldogs also forced five turnovers as they successfully kicked the pace up a notch and forced Virginia to run with them.
Based on season-long trends, Butler was in an ideal spot entering the locker room. Chrabascz opened his evening with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, which figured to be a good omen, considering the Bulldogs were 16-2 entering Saturday's showdown when he scored in double figures, per the program's official Twitter account.
Taking the caliber of the Bulldogs' opponents into consideration, the Indianapolis Star's David Woods opined the game's first 20 minutes were arguably the team's most impressive all season:
Virginia looked more energized on offense coming out of the locker room as it jumped out to a quick four-point lead, but Chrabascz wasn't done lighting it up.
On back-to-back possessions minutes into the second half, the 6'7'' junior drilled a triple to notch a new season high before spinning into the lane for an impressive and-1 conversion at the rim.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg was impressed with Butler's ability to take it to the Cavaliers below the free-throw line:
The way Butler has carved up this Virginia defense is crazy. Not many teams get this many clean looks in and around the paint.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) March 20, 2016
But even though Butler's offense was able to find success against the nation's fourth-stingiest defense, according to KenPom.com, Virginia flipped the switch and looked like a different beast with the game on the line, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Mike Barber observed:
#UVA's answers after Butler dragged it into a slug fest? The Cavaliers have picked up pace. That's right, Bennett's boys are playing faster.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) March 20, 2016
As the Cavaliers started to pull away, hoops scribe Patrick Stevens offered a look at the efficiency discrepancy between Virginia and Butler:
Under-8. Virginia 59-55. Points per possession since halftime: Virginia 1.64 (36 points/22 trips) | Butler 1.43 (30 points/21 trips).— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) March 20, 2016
The Bulldogs offense had its moments, as Chrabascz let it fly from deep and Roosevelt Jones (18 points) did dirty work down low, but 3-of-12 shooting from three-point range by everyone other than Chrabascz limited their upside.
And if the Cavaliers thought they had their hands full with Butler's offense, wait until the Cyclones roll into the Windy City next week.
Led by Georges Niang and point guard extraordinaire Monte Morris, Iowa State owns the nation's fourth-ranked offense in terms of adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
In a true clash of styles, a tight contest could be decided in the waning seconds.
According to Barber, Jones placed the blame squarely on himself for the loss:
Butler's Roosevelt Jones on loss to #UVA: "I would take the blame for that. I let Brogdon get going."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) March 20, 2016
"Our seniors deserve at least another weekend," Chrabascz said, according to Butler's Twitter account. "I wish we could have made that happen for them."
On the flip side, Virginia's seniors will get to enjoy at least one more game.
"I think it's special for us seniors but also for the program in general," Gill said of UVA's second Sweet 16 appearance in three years, according to WTVR's Lane Casadonte. "It's not over yet."
"We played a tough team, but we are a tough team too," Brogdon said after Virginia got things going in the second half, per Casadonte.
Check out Bleacher Report's live updating bracket to track your picks along the road to the Final Four.