Following an eight day break, the Virginia Cavaliers get back to action tonight at John Paul jones Arena against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are basically just playing out the string on what amounts to a lost season. They had some embarrassing losses early in the season, including home losses to Grambling and Wright St. Their best win is a home win over Miami (before Bruce Brown’s injury). They’ve now lost five in a row, including a blowout loss at home to Virginia Tech, and now two of their promising freshmen, PG Jose Alvarado and wing Curtis Haywood II, are out for the rest of the season with injuries.
This is the second matchup between these two teams, with the Cavs winning 64-48 in Atlanta just over a month ago. DeAndre Hunter led the Hoos with 17 points on 7-of-9 from the field. Tadric Jackson was the only Jacket in double figures, with 14 on 7-of-15 shooting.
That 64-48 game score is in line with the expectations for this game. KenPom predicts a 63-44 win for the Hoos, and gives Virginia a 96% chance to win. Georgia Tech is simply not a good offensive team, which combined with the Wahoos’ excellent defense, suggests a very poor output for the Jackets.
Their leading scorer is sophomore Josh Okogie, at just under 19 per game. He has scored in double figures in every single contest he’s played in, except for the Virginia game, where Devon Hall (with help from Hunter) held him to just nine points on eight shots. Okogie has an NBA body and an NBA game: he’s shooting 36% from 3 (which includes an 0-8 against the Hokies), he gets to the line a lot (and makes 83%), he’s a good defender, and he can create for other people. He’s pretty much tailor-made for the NBA.
Jackson is the other wing, and he’s a vastly different player. He isn’t a shooter (just 26% from 3 and 63% from the FT line). He’s also a poor defender. But he’s very quick in the open court and he’s a strong finisher inside. He’s also left-handed, in case that might create troubles for some defenders. Because of the injury to Alvarado, Jackson has been playing PG, a role for which he’s not really well-suited. Lehigh graduate transfer Brandon Alston is also in the mix at PG. Alston is more of a distributor than scorer, and has good size, but he hasn’t shown enough ability to make shots for him to really threaten the Pack Line (or anybody, really) very much.
Up front, the Jackets are led by senior Ben Lammers, a 6’10” post player who can score with his back to the basket or facing up. He really struggled to score against Isaiah Wilkins in the last contest, though he did have eight rebounds and six blocks. Next to Lammers is 6’9” Abdoulaye Gueye. Gueye is not an offensive player, but is a strong defender and rebounder. As we’ve seen with other teams, you simply can’t succeed against the Virginia defense with a zero on offense. Gueye played just 17 minutes in the first game, with Haywood playing an ACC high 31 minutes.
Unfortuntely, Haywood is out and that means the Jackets are forced to go to depth they simply don’t have. Expect Gueye to get closer to his typical 25 minutes, with freshmen Moses Wright and Evan Cole getting extra run. Cole was a UNC-Wilmington signee, but was released when coach Kevin Keatts left for NC State. Cole is supposed to be a shooter, but has made just 4-of-16 on the season. He’s 6’9”, but way too thin (just 210 pounds) to be a consistent interior threat. Wright (also 6’9”, 210) has proven to be a solid defender, but really hasn’t shown any offense game.
Especially with all the injuries, the Jackets are a very big team. Against the Hokies, more than half their minutes went to players 6’9” and over, and that’s with both Okogie and Jackson playing almost the entire game. But they simply don’t have the talent right now to compete on this level. They have one win in the past month, which came against a Syracuse team that couldn’t make a shot. GT has been blown out in their last four games. This should be a relatively easy win for the Hoos. With a win, the Hoos would clinch the ACC regular season title.
Tip-off is at 7:00 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN2.