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Virginia Cavaliers vs. Boston College Eagles: The Big Preview

The Hoos open conference play to close out 2017.

NCAA Basketball: Hampton at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers open ACC play Saturday against the first-place Boston College Eagles. Yep, you read that right. BC is in first place in the ACC, at 1-0. Who’d they beat? Duke. Yep, Duke is in last place. That’s fun.

What does that tell us about BC? Or about Duke? Probably not very much. Mostly, what it tells us is that any road conference game is tough. BC was 2-16 in conference last year and 0-18 two years ago. Chances are, they haven’t all of a sudden become one of the best teams in the conference.

This Boston College team can score, averaging almost 78 points per game. They rank just 206th in tempo, so that’s a legit offense. The Eagles are led by three wings who all average over 14 points per game. Leading the way is sophomore PG Ky Bowman and his 16.6 ppg. Junior SG Jerome Robinson is just below that at 16.5 ppg and Jordan Chatman is over 14 ppg. All three guys shoot a lot of 3s, but Bowman shoots just 32% from there. He is so good at getting into the paint, teams respect his drive, and the jumper is often open. In last year’s matchup, Robinson had 9, Bowman had 7 and Chatman had 16 off the bench.

Bowman is a small PG (6’1” 188), so look for him to match up with Guy or Nigel Johnson. That puts Devon Hall on Robinson and Ty Jerome on Chatman.

Senior big man (and Illinois State transfer) Deontae Hawkins leads the team with over 9 rebounds per game. But he’s out for the season with a knee injury. His loss hurts, but they beat Duke without him. With Hawkins out, the leading rebounder has been 6’8” freshman Steffon Mitchell. Mitchell doesn’t shoot much, but he is strong on the glass and has very good athleticism. The other big man is 6’11” sophomore Nik Popovic. Popovic is a strong interior offensive player and can also shoot it a little bit. He’s 3/8 from downtown, but he’s well over 50% from the field overall. He’s also strong on the offensive glass and is really the only shot blocker among the rotation players.

That rotation isn’t very deep. Against Duke, the Eagles played just seven players, and one of them played just four minutes. That would be freshman wing Vin Baker, Jr., who is the son of former NBA All-Star of the same name. Chatman played the full 40 minutes, Robinson, Mitchell and Bowman were all over 36 minutes. Chatman had 30 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. That’s a tremendous line. Robinson had 24 points and Chatman had 22. The Eagles were 15/26 from 3. They were making contested threes all game. This is Robinson canning an NBA 3 with a hand in his face. Probably could’ve had a foul call too. Not getting that call against Duke, obviously. But it could’ve been.

You shoot 60% from 3 and you’re going to win most games. Even with that game, the Eagles are just 120th nationally in 3 point percentage. And, of course, the Hoos are 32nd in the nation in defensive 3 point percentage.

The Eagles had assists on 58% of their buckets against Duke. Nationally, they are 251st in assist rate, with just 49% of their buckets coming off assists. The Hoos generally play well against one-on-one teams and BC often ends up playing in isolation sets. The goal of these sets is to draw attention and kick to shooters. Once again, that technique works really well when you make 60% of those treys. That’s unlikely to continue.

The other thing that’s unlikely to continue is having 4 guys play 36+ minutes. The Hoos style is draining, and you don’t often see guys play such big minutes. Yes, the Eagles (and the Hoos) are coming off a full week break for Christmas. But the drain against the Hoos is more mental than physical, and extra rest doesn’t prepare you for that.

Defensively, BC will switch around between some man and some zone. I would expect to see some more zone against the Hoos. One of the weaknesses of the zone is defensive rebounding, but the Hoos don’t usually crash the offensive boards very hard. That said, both Isaiah Wilkins and Mamadi Diakite are strong on the offensive glass. The Hoos interior depth is going to be a problem for the Eagles, who simply do not have much depth down low.

The Eagles are a much improved team, with 3 very dangerous perimeter players. The closest thing BC has seen to Virginia’s defensive ability is an early season matchup with Texas Tech. BC scored .91 points per possession against Texas Tech. The Hoos defense is better than Texas Tech. Also, that game was at Mohegan Sun (a casino in Connecticut), which is a quick trip from Chestnut Hill. This game is a home game for the Hoos and that is the biggest reason why the Hoos should come out on top.