Victories this week over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest helped the Virginia Cavaliers remain undefeated in ACC play. It was a dominant week defensively, as the ‘Hoos held both opponents to under 50 points. Virginia has kept opponents to less than 50 points on nine different occasions this season, and their scoring defense (52.4 points per game) leads the nation by almost five points.
Last Week: Thursday, Jan 18th vs Georgia Tech (Win, 64-48); Sunday, Jan 21st vs Wake Forest (Win, 59-49):
The Cavaliers traveled to Atlanta to play the Yellow Jackets last Thursday. The offense got off to a slow start: Virginia scored only 28 points in the first half on 40% shooting. The good news? Georgia Tech could only muster 19 points of their own. The second half was better offensively for both teams, but the Cavaliers were able to maintain a double-digit lead for much of the period in route to a comfortable win. Tony Bennett’s patented pack-line defense forced 18 turnovers, and a poor night from behind the 3-point line (23.1%) is all that kept this game from being an even bigger blowout.
Last night’s game at Wake Forest was a tougher test. Every road game in the ACC has the potential to be a trap game, and the Demon Deacons came ready to play. Wake Forest was leading by two points heading into halftime, and was up by as many as three in the second half before Virginia turned it on. The ‘Hoos shot 46% in the second half, and Wake Forest only made one free throw in the game’s final eight minutes. UVa also made all ten of their free throws after having shot none in the first half, which ending up being a deciding factor in a game when the teams were relatively even on most other statistical fronts.
Player of the Week: De’Andre Hunter, Small Forward
De’Andre Hunter lead the way against Georgia Tech with 17 points and 7 rebounds, and added 16 points and 5 rebounds against the Demon Deacons. He made all three of the 3-pointers he took last week, shot 70% from the field, and added two steals and zero turnovers. Hunter, who has gotten some buzz for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, has been an offensive revelation for a Virginia team that struggles to score at times. His timely buckets against both opponents were a major reason the ‘Hoos were able to grind out two conference victories on the road.
Next Week: Tuesday, Jan 23rd vs #18 Clemson (JPJ Arena @ 7:00pm); Saturday, Jan 27th vs #4 Duke (Cameron Indoor Stadium @ 2:00pm)
This week promises to be a tough one for Virginia, as they’ll face two top-20 opponents. As Danny Neckel pointed out on Twitter, Clemson’s ranking in the AP Poll (18) seems low compared to advanced metrics like RPI and BPI, perhaps suggesting the Tigers could be an even tougher opponent than their ranking suggests. Head coach Brad Brownell has Clemson (16-3, 5-2 ACC) in position for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2010-11, although they will be without senior forward Donte Grantham. Grantham tore his ACL in the second half of Clemson’s victory over Notre Dame on Saturday, ending his season and his college career. He was averaging over 14 points and almost 7 rebounds per game, both of which were second-best on the team, and may prove difficult for the Tigers to replace.
This Saturday’s date with Duke will be the marquee game of the new year and college basketball’s first match-up between top-5 teams in almost two months. The Cavaliers will be looking to win their first game at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. The Blue Devils, who are riding a four-game win streak, have the best offense in the country (92.1 points per game), and are top-3 in rebounds (43.6) and assists (19.6) per game. It will be a classic match-up of strength on strength – the country’s best offense versus the best defense. Something to watch: Virginia’s ability to control the paint. Duke’s star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III is averaging a double-double, but Isaiah Wilkins has a legitimate claim to the title of best defensive player in the country. The ‘Hoos will need to attempt to slow down Bagley, while also battling on the boards and preventing the Blue Devils from getting second and third chances.