Virginia did exactly what they had to do in non-conference play. 11-1 against one of the best schedules in the country has positioned the Cavaliers nicely as the ACC season commences. Here are three things I'll be looking for in the league's first weekend.
1) Who's going to step up - Malcolm Brogdon is really good at basketball. Anthony Gill seems to be able to score 15 with his eyes closed. But what has separated this Virginia team from others in recent history is that on any given night any of the other Cavaliers can have a big night. Outside of the big two, five Hoos have scored in double figures multiple times, and each has shown that they can be counted on to produce in big spots. Whether it's been Mike Tobey being an unstoppable force in the post, London Perrantes hitting game-winning three pointers, or Darius Thompson electrifying the crowd with fast break dunks every given night has given Virginia fans someone to talk about. As the team enters ACC play the competition will get stiffer but the depth on this team and the fact that opponents can't just key on a couple guys will make the Hoos once again a favorite in the league.
2) Bombs away - One of the most pleasant surprises of this season has been Virginia's ability to light it up from downtown. On the season the Hoos are shooting 41% from three, being led by the torrid pace set by Perrantes who has made 56% of his thee balls on the year. In addition, Brogdon, Thompson, and Marial Shayok are each making over 41% of their three-point attempts. That is a stark difference from the 35% the Hoos shot last year. Why is this of note this weekend? Well, Notre Dame just happens to rank 308th in the country in three point percentage on defense. Before having to become a focal point of the team, Zach Auguste was always one of the Irish's better interior defenders and that has shown as Notre Dame ranks inside the top 60 in two-point percentage. Look for the Hoos to try to stick with their bread and butter of throwing things in to Anthony Gill, but don't be surprised when the Hoos are launching three balls all night long.
3) Watch out for Seth Allen - While I think Buzz Williams has things going in the right direction at Virginia Tech, there just isn't a whole lot of talent on that roster. And with the loss of Chris Clarke, that puts the Hokies further in a hole. Zach LeDay is a legitimate ACC player, but the Hokies this year begin and end with Seth Allen. The Maryland transfer is second in the ACC in usage, being used on nearly 30% of possessions while he is on the floor (usage represents the percentage of possessions that end with that player either making a shot, missing a shot which isn't rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover). Simple fact is, you stop Seth Allen, you stop the Hokies. That will be easier said than done as Allen is the type of slashing guard that gives the pack line trouble. In fact, in two games as a freshman at Maryland, Allen averaged 17.5 points against the Hoos. But what gives most Cavalier fans nightmares was how he scored at will during the overtime period of a 75-69 loss to the Terrapins on March of 2014. Granted, Allen won't have the same supporting cast as he had in College Park, but if Virginia let's him run wild, the Hokies could make things interesting.
The Hoos host Notre Dame Saturday, January 2nd at 5 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2. Then check out the Cavaliers as they head to Virginia Tech Monday January 4th for a 9 p.m. tip also on ESPN2. If you can't make it to either, enjoy the game and come join us in the game thread. And as always, Go Hoos.