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THE BIG (Basketball) PREVIEW: Virginia vs. UNC-Greensboro

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida vs Virginia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Virginia vs. UNC-Greensboro
Where: JPJ
When: 7 PM
How to Watch: ACC Network Extra

For the 2nd straight year, the Hoos open against the Spartans from UNC-Greensboro. Last year, it was on the road in Greensboro. This year, the Hoos play back home in JPJ. Last year’s game was a 25 point win for the Hoos, but the margin could’ve been much more dramatic. The Hoos finished the 1st half on a 23-2 Cavalanche to put the game away early.

Virginia had 4 guys in double figures, of which only Isaiah Wilkins will return. Wilkins, of course, is not generally known as a scorer. UNCG had just 2 guys in double figures, but both return. Francisco Alonso was the leading scorer for the Spartans last year, including 14 against Virginia. The Spaniard (he played 2 years of HS ball in Massachusetts) is pretty quick, and he’s smart. His game has a distinctly European feel to it. He can flat out shoot the rock. He was 46% from 3 last year and 88% from the stripe. Alonso is, far and away, the best player on the team. He’ll start at the 2, so figure to see Devon Hall matched up with him for much of the game.

The other double-figure scorer was Marvin Smith, who is now one of 2 seniors on this team, along with Dutch big man Jordy Kuiper. Smith is the other wing next to Alonso, and he’s a good all-around player. He’s almost certainly the best defender on the team, and he’s also decent on the boards. But he can’t shoot. He was shot 29.5% from 3 last year, despite averaging over 5 attempts per game. Smith may end up guarding Hall, because he’s the only wing with the size to cover Hall. But on the other end, look for Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome to match up. Or, they could just leave Smith open and let him fire away from 3 at 29%.

Kuiper is a left-handed post player and has some good moves inside. He had 7 points last year, on 3-8 from the field. Five of those attempts were 3s, where he shot just 28% last year. Again, if he wants to stand outside and shoot 3s, the Hoos will let him. He’ll also have a tough time banging inside with Jack Salt. Kuiper is big and strong, but Salt is bigger, stronger and Kiwi-er. Advantage, Hoos.

With Salt on Kuiper, that means Isaiah Wilkins is guarding James Dickey. Dickey is a long and lean PF who can jump out of the gym. He’s a beast on the glass, he blocks a lot of shots and he tries to dunk everything. And can’t make a FT to save his life (51% last year). Dickey did not play in last year’s contest. Wilkins is giving up some height to Dickey, but Wilkins is stronger and is probably the best defender Dickey has ever faced.

The last remaining starter for the Spartans is Demetrius Troy. Troy is definitely a pass-first PG, but he can shoot it a little bit too. He was over 38% from 3, and almost 80% from the stripe. He’s small and struggles to finish inside against bigger players, but he’ll look to draw fouls and get others involved.

Key reserves for the Spartans include Kyrin Galloway and Malik Massey. Galloway is another long and lanky big man who can jump and block shots. He can also shoot though. Massey is a shooter, making almost 45% of his 3s last year. He doesn’t do much else.

UNC-G is a solid team and they’re going to have success in the SoCon this year. They won 25 games last year, and very nearly beat Wake Forest, losing by 3 on a deep trey with 2 seconds remaining. They lost 2 very good players in RJ White and Diante Baldwin, but they’ll continue to fight with ETSU for SoCon supremacy.

Word is that UNC-G defeated the Tar Heels in a scrimmage earlier this week. This was part of a charity “jamboree” that UNC hosted to raise money for disaster relief. Don’t read too much into that, however; it was a strange format, and Roy Williams was experimenting with his lineups. UNC-G head coach Wes Miller, a Roy Williams protégé, probably had more interest in winning than Roy did.

The Spartans are a far better offensive team than defensive. They have a couple of shooters, and a couple of talented posts. Against the Hoos, they’ll shoot a lot of 3s, and their only hope is that they make a high percentage of contested jumpers. The key for the Hoos is to contest those shots and keep Dickey off the offensive glass. It’s a good matchup for the Hoos, who generally do not allow uncontested shots or offensive rebounds.

For the Hoos, this game is about getting the newcomers involved and beginning to get the rotations settled. Expect a double-digit win again, but the score may be closer than the game feels as Tony Bennett fiddles with his lineup. Fans will get their first real glimpse at Jay Huff and DeAndre Hunter. And we’ll get to see if Ty Jerome is over a foot injury he sustained in the offseason.