Well, the calendar year has flipped, and the University of Virginia's epic 2014 is now behind them. Today, the No.3 ranked Cavaliers head down to Coral Gables, FL to take on the University of Miami (10-3) in their ACC opener.
Virginia enters the game as one of five remaining unbeaten teams in the country, having cruised to a 12-0 non conference record with relative ease. The Hoos faced a big challenge from pesky and potent Davidson on Tuesday, but overcame a double-digit deficit in the first half to win 83-72.
While the test from Davidson certainly helped Virginia prep for their first ACC game, you never know what to expect when you hit the road in conference. Miami shocked the nation with a then-flashy upset of then No.8 Florida (who have since showed how overrated that preseason ranking was), and climbed to No.15 in the polls before dropping three of the next five games to Green Bay (we feel ya, bro), Eastern Kentucky, and Providence. In the three losses, the Hurricanes were outscored by an average of just over 18 points.
Projected Miami Starters:
G- Angel Rodriguez (R.Jr., 5-11, 180)
G- Manu Lecomte (So., 5-11, 170)
G- Sheldon McClellan (R.Jr., 6-5, 205)
C- Tonye Jekiri (Jr., 7-0, 244)
F- Joe Thomas (Gr., 6-7, 245)
Storylines to Watch:
Winless in the Gables- Virginia is 0-6 all time when traveling to Miami. That's not a great stat, but keep in mind, the Hoos had struggled in the state of Florida as a whole until last year's season-opening victory at Florida State. 2013, the last time Virginia visited Miami, the Hurricanes were ranked No.2 in the nation and the Cavaliers left with a narrow, bitter, 54-50 defeat.
Last season, Coach Larranaga's Hurricanes came to John Paul Jones Arena and the Hoos were terrible hosts as they trounced their visitors 65-40. London Perrantes scored 15 points behind a perfect 5-5 (including 4-4 from three point land) shooting. Brogdon contributed 15 of his own, and Anthony Gill had nine.
Three point threat- Miami boasts two players, McClellan and Rodriguez, that could pose a legitimate three point threat. Against Davidson, Virginia struggled with the defending the three ball, so containing those two will be key to prevent another first half deficit. Both shoot right around 40% from the outside, which is good when you consider that Justin Anderson's nation-leading 61% is just freakishly unreal. The Pack Line defense is content to allow contested three pointers, but the Hoos will have to make sure the defense doesn't get stretched like they did against Davidson, which led to several of those lane-driving lay-ins.
McClellan, a transfer from Texas, leads the Canes in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game. Rodriguez is right behind him with 13.6. Miami, ranked No.73 in KenPom's rankings, comes in at 47th for adjusted offense and average almost 70 points per game. Miami's smaller team could present defensive mark-up challenges with two players listed under six feet. Evan Nolte, Marial Shayok, and Devon Hall could be essential in Virginia playing a 'smaller' lineup in today's game.
The Gill-A-Monster- Anthony Gill has been an absolute beast this season. He averages 13.2 points per game, good for third on the team behind Anderson's 15.0 and Brogdon's 13.3. He is shooting 62% from the field, and when he draws contact (which is ridiculously frequent), he's converting over 70% from the line. Against Davidson, Gill put up a monstrous 25 points and 13 rebounds, having his way on offense and disrupting on defense. His 33 offensive rebounds account for 24% of the team's overall offensive rebounds. He's good, and people are starting to notice.
Miami plays a smaller lineup, using three to four guards at a time, so it will be interesting to see what role Gill plays against the Hurricanes. Miami's biggest man, seven footer Tonye Jekiri, leads their team with over nine rebounds per game, so the combo of Tobey/Atkins/Gill will have to control the glass.
Check out that Virginia...Offense? Clearly, the Hoos are known for their stifling, boa constrictor defense. The Cavaliers come in with the second overall defense nationally, giving up just 48.3 points per game (jeez, thanks, Davidson), and are third overall in KenPom's adjusted defensive ranks.
Did you know they're also fourth in adjusted offense nationally? In fact, Virginia is the only team currently ranked in the top five in both adjusted offense and defense.
Yeah, their defense is first. Their offense?
Virginia averages over 70 points per game, and 70 efficient points per game. The Hoos can get you any which way, whether battering down low with Tobey and Gill or Justin Anderson dropping threes on you like it's going out of style. London Perrantes, while still struggling with his outside shot (new calendar year, LP...let's do this), is boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.1. Some folks out there will still say the offense is boring, but that's none of my business.
While this whole undefeated thing is a new feeling for Virginia fans, I think the Hoos pull it off on the road. Defense travels. Coach Larranaga is a great coach, but Tony Bennett always gets these guys prepared and primed to play, so I think, in typical Virginia fashion, it'll be close early but a Cavalanche spanning the end of the first half into the second will put it away.
What do you think, Evan Nolte?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Great shot of a pumped up <a href="https://twitter.com/EvanNolte">@EvanNolte</a> and the band as <a href="https://twitter.com/UVAMensHoops">@UVAMensHoops</a> pulls away! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoHoos?src=hash">#GoHoos</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NolteFace?src=hash">#NolteFace</a> <a href="http://t.co/Zk9nEXYiaO">pic.twitter.com/Zk9nEXYiaO</a></p>— Matt Riley - UVa (@uvasportsphotos) <a href="https://twitter.com/uvasportsphotos/status/550114144402558977">December 31, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Sounds good to me.