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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. Dayton

The Hoos take on the Flyers in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Dayton vs Butler Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers face off against the Dayton Flyers on Thanksgiving afternoon as part of the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis. They’re playing in one of two semifinals on the day, with Oklahoma and Wisconsin squaring off in the other.

Right now, Virginia Basketball’s strength-of-schedule sits at an unsightly 348th (out of 353) according to KenPom. That was expected to get a big boost this week in the Bahamas with teams such as Wisconsin (14), Florida (30) and Butler (35) in the tournament. The Hoos did their part, shutting down Middle Tennessee en route to a 74-52 win. Wisconsin beat Stanford, but both Florida and Butler lost games they were expected to win.

Butler’s loss hurts most, because that was Virginia’s next game. Instead, the Hoos will face the Dayton Flyers (KenPom #91), who knocked off Butler 69-64. Dayton took over late in the first half and withstood a late comeback attempt by the Bulldogs.

The Flyers are a tough matchup for this Wahoo team. They have five rotation players 6’5 or bigger. They are coached by Anthony Grant, who was at the helm of VCU 10 years ago. Tony Bennett’s small lineups may not work as well against this team. With 6’8 senior Josh Cunningham, 6’7 junior Ryan Mikesell, and 6’9 freshman Obi Toppin, Tony may have to play two bigs for a majority of the game.

Then again, DeAndre Hunter and Braxton Key are both capable of guarding bigger players. The lineup of Kihei Clark, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy with Hunter and Key may not work out, but a lineup with two guards, Hunter, Key and one of the bigs (Diakite or Salt) could. Mikesell is more of a perimeter player on offense, though he’s a strong shot blocker. He missed last season after undergoing surgery on both of his hips.

Cunningham is the key. Butler couldn’t contain him, as he went for 18 points and nine rebounds on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. He’s very good on the glass, and has a nice touch inside. He shot 70% from the field last year, and is at 76% last year. Here’s an example from last night’s game.

Despite having a lot of size, Dayton isn’t a strong offensive rebounding team. That’s a style thing. Grant is similar to Tony is style. They get back on defense, avoiding transition opportunities and they crash the defensive glass hard. Right now, they are seventh in the nation in defensive rebounding. Obviously it’s still early early in the season, and Butler did rebound 30% of their own misses, but it’s still a part of their scheme.

Matching up with Ty Jerome (or Kihei Clark) at PG is sophomore Jalen Crutcher. At just 6’1, 169, he’s giving up a ton of size to Jerome, and may struggle to get his shot off. He’s made 8-of-18 from three this year (44%), but was only 34% last year so that small sample size may not be a true measure of his shooting ability. He was 3-for-4 against Butler. Next to Crutcher is 6’2 Jordan Davis, who has gone the opposite direction. A year ago, Davis made almost 40% of his treys, but so far this year he’s just 2-for-14 (21%). Figure on both of them ending up closer to their previous numbers.

Dayton’s size could cause some issues for the Hoos, but they aren’t a particularly good outside shooting team (237th last year). They generally want to play the same style as the Hoos, but they don’t have nearly as much depth or talent as Virginia.

Even though Butler would’ve been a better matchup, at least on paper, this is still the best team Virginia has faced this year. KenPom says Virginia has an 86% likelihood of winning. The Flyers are a strong interior team, led by one of the best post players in the nation, and could give Virginia a tough matchup. But Dayton isn’t very strong defensively, and Virginia’s offense is the best that Dayton has faced. If Virginia bests those two marks, they should be ok.

The game tips at 4pm and will be shown on ESPN.