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THE ACC TOURNAMENT BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. NC State

The teams went to OT in the regular season. Can the Hoos put together a stronger total game?

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

For a while, it seemed like Virginia Cavaliers Basketball was playing (and losing to) the NC State Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament almost ever year. From 2002 to 2013, Virginia went 0-4 to the Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament.

However, since losing to NC State in the 2013 ACC Tournament, Virginia is 6-0 against the Pack. All of those are regular season games. That, of course, includes a 66-65 overtime win in Raleigh back in late January.

The Wolfpack finished 22-10 (9-9 ACC), then they knocked off Clemson 59-58 in yesterday’s second round ACC Tournament game. The Tigers led 42-26 at halftime before NC State stormed back in the second half. They did it mostly with defense, holding Clemson to just 16 second half points including just five in the last 10 minutes.

They did something similar against Virginia, though it wasn’t quite as big a comeback. Virginia was up by just four at halftime, but then led by as many as 13 in the second half. The Hoos had a double digit lead with 10 minutes remaining and a 7 point lead at the under-4 timeout. Virginia scored just two points in the final four minutes and Ty Jerome missed this runner at the end of the regulation.

That is very good defense by NC State’s Torin Dorn, and it led to a tough shot from Jerome. Jerome may have gotten fouled, but it wasn’t egregious enough to get a call in that situation. Given a similar situation again, you’d like to see the ball in DeAndre Hunter’s hands, as he’s the most talented scorer on the team.

Hunter led the Hoos with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting to go along with four assists. He also had four turnovers, which was a theme for Virginia. The Hoos had 16 turnovers, or 24% of their possessions. That’s far too many, especially for a team that ranked 14th nationally in turnover rate this year. Jerome also had four and three other Cavaliers had two each.

That is, of course, part of NC State’s game plan. They ranked 21st nationally in turnover rate, at 22%. But many of the turnovers were not forced, they were simply lazy plays from the Cavaliers.

This simply can’t happen. Hunter is too good to make that pass. It led to a lay-up for D.J. Funderburke and a foul on Jay Huff.

The Pack are also a very good offensive rebounding team, and grabbed 36% of their misses. That was led by 6’9” 240 lb Wyatt Walker, who had five offensive boards of his own. Walker also had 11 points, mostly from the FT line, where he was 7-of-11. He also had three blocks, including this one on a Braxton Key dunk attempt, which might’ve put the game away in regulation.

The OT period began with a Markell Johnson three pointer, giving NC State an early three point lead. Johnson led the Wolfpack with 14 points, but was an inefficient 3/12 from the field. He was 2/9 from deep, which poor for him. He’s a 41% shooter from deep this year, and takes well over half his shots from deep. But he’s actually too good with the ball in his hands to be shooting so many threes. Johnson is the best player on the Wolfpack, and the #1 key for Virginia to stop.

After the Johnson three-ball, the Hoos tied it right back up, courtesy of Jay Huff:

Huff was outstanding in that game, scoring 8 points on 3/3 from the field in just 15 minutes, including this monster dunk off a nice feed from Kyle Guy.

Huff’s playing time has increased of late, in part because of Salt’s back injury, and he’s had some great performances. Of particular note is Huff’s rebounding, which has improved. He had just one rebound against the Pack, but has averaged almost five rebounds per game over the past five games, in just 18 minutes.

NC State may not be the best matchup for Huff because of Walker. He’s strong. Perhaps too strong for the lithe seven-footer. So perhaps this is a game where Jack Salt gets more run, assuming his back is up to it. He had five points and four rebounds in his 18 minutes against the Pack the first time. That included this pretty shot, again off a nice feed from Guy.

Those two passes aside, Guy struggled. He was just 3-of-11 from the field, and just 1-of-5 from deep. It was one of just five games this year when Guy did not have multiple triples. It was also one of just three games this year when Guy attempted more twos than threes. All three came against up-tempo opponents. Although his strength is obviously shooting, he’s also a very good open court player and can get to the rim and finish. That skillset could be handy today, if NC State is able to make the game more up-tempo than Virginia wants.

Make no mistake, NC State is a good team, and a team that can knock off the Hoos. They also may have a bigger cheering section, as Duke and UNC fans are likely to be rooting against the Hoos. They’ve also historically had great success in ACC Tournaments. Virginia will need to play better than they did in the first matchup if they’re to come out on top.