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Virginia vs. UNC-Greensboro: The Big Preview

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Hoos head on the road to open the 2016-17 season in Greensboro.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Greensboro at North Carolina State
Hoos open the season on the road against the Spartans.
Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations everyone. We’ve made it. The 2016-2017 Virginia Basketball season kicks off today, so it’s time to take a look at the Cavaliers’ first foe in UNC-Greensboro.

Southern Conference teams generally do not get very many home games against Power Five teams. But by virtue of playing their home games at Greensboro Coliseum, the Spartans seem to get an ACC team every year or two. With Greensboro Coliseum hosting the ACC Tournament more often than not, it gives the ACC teams a chance to get used to the arena, the trip down, and a little bit of the environment. Of course, facing UNCG in November in front of two thousand fans isn’t quite the same as facing Duke in an ACC Tournament final in front of 20 thousand.

Last year, the Spartans faced just two top-100 teams (UNC and NC State). They actually played the Wolfpack tough, losing by just 6. Unsurprisingly, UNC ran them out of the Dean Dome. They finished last year just 15-19, though they did have a winning record in the SoCon. They were a young team, led by senior swing-man Kayel Locke, who wasn’t actually all that good but led the team in usage rate and was 2nd in scoring.

So, on paper, this game didn’t look interesting for any reason other than a top-10 team heading to Greensboro. Then the Hoos suspended Austin Nichols for this game, and then Mamadi Diakite was suspended because of NCAA amateurism rules. All of a sudden, the game had a lot more intrigue. The Hoos will be undermanned. Who will even start on the inside? Jack Salt? Jared Reuter? Jay Huff? We likely will not know until Friday at 7PM.

The Spartans’ leading scorer a year ago was freshman Francisco Alonso, despite not being in the starting lineup for the first 7 games. He shot nearly 40% from 3 and 85% from the line. The 3rd leading scorer was 6’8” 280 pound junior RJ White. White is a beast inside, and ranked 34th in the nation in effective FG%, shooting nearly 65% inside and also making 31% of his treys (though he doesn’t shoot many outside jumpers). He’s very good on the glass and in the paint, but he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. He fouled out 5 times last year, and played just 19 minutes against UNC due to foul trouble (though the game was a blowout early). He had 11 and 7 against both NC State and Wake Forest, but just 8 and 3 against UNC.

Greensboro has their own senior PG to compete with London Perrantes. Though Diante Baldwin doesn’t get the press or accolades that Perrantes does, he’s had a very nice career. He actually had a higher assist rate than London and a lower turnover rate last year (though of course the opposition was nowhere near as good).

Aside from those 3 (Baldwin, Alonso, and White), the Spartans starting lineup is up in the air a bit. They get Clay Byrd back after he missed the final 26 games last year due to academics. Byrd is a shooter who doesn’t do much else. He was starting early last year, but he’ll likely come off the bench behind Alonso this year. Marvin Smith is a 6’6” wing who may be the team’s best defender. He started 33 games last year. But Smith isn’t much of an offensive threat, shooting just 36% shooting last year with twice as many TOs as assists. Other options are freshmen Taqqi Muhammad (redshirt freshman), Kylia Sykes and Kyrin Galloway, along with UW-Milwaukee transfer Justin Jordan.

Down low, there are options alongside White. Maybe the most interesting is 6’11” sophomore Lloyd Burgess. Burgess didn’t play a ton last year, but he proved to be a decent shot blocker and scorer inside. He had five points and five rebounds in 10 minutes against UNC’s dominating front court. There is also 6’9” junior Jordy Kuiper, a Dutch born player who played high school ball in Spain. Kuiper has had trouble staying on the court, but has been reasonably productive when he’s healthy.

The Hoos’ suspensions make this game a bit more interesting that it would be otherwise. Still, this isn’t the type of team that is likely to give the Hoos much trouble. They have some talent, and some depth. But they are far outclassed on the wings, and they don’t have anybody who is really a threat to consistently score against the Pack Line. The only way this game is close is if the Hoos struggle from the perimeter. Because without Nichols, inside points may be tough to come by.

Game Information:

Who: UNC Greensboro Spartans

Where: Greensboro Coliseum

When: 7PM ET

TV: ESPN3