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THE COLUMN: Virginia vs. Auburn Complete Preview

It’s the final countdown...

TIME: 6:09 PM (EST)

DATE: April 6th, 2019

LOCATION: U.S. Bank Stadium | Minneapolis, MN


The Lowdown

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, the Virginia Cavaliers are in the Final Four. It took a stunning pass by Kihei Clark and a big-time shot from Mamadi Diakite to get the team there, but the saying is, survive and advance, right?

Like any other year under Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers are defensive juggernauts. They have held opposing teams to just 55.4 points per game, good for first in D1 basketball. The Wahoos are also fifth in opposing field goal percentage, keeping others shooting at only 34.8%. While defense has been a Bennett hallmark, Virginia has upped their offensive scoring capabilities this year. The team is seventh in three-point field goal percentage, at 39.4%. This efficiency is mirrored in their lack of turnovers, in which they rank third for the least amount of them.

This week, Auburn will try to test the limits of the pack-line defense. They will also have to do so without Chuma Okeke, their impactful forward, who tore his ACL in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. The Tigers are an offensive powerhouse and have used their fast-paced offense to take down Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky on their way to the Final Four. An impressive list of teams, for sure. Auburn ranks first in three-pointers made, second in three-point attempts, and 31st in three-point field goal percentage. They also thrive off a hounding defense, ranking first in steals.

On paper, this matchup should be a tug-o-war between the differing paces of the two teams. Virginia has proven that they can take care of offensively minded teams this year and Auburn has proven they can overwhelm teams with their uptempo style. The Tigers have the chops to disrupt the pack-line in ways other teams were unable to. At the same time, the Cavaliers defense can cause big confusion for Auburn’s main scorers. Who will win?

I’m not sure, but I sure do hope the basketball gods smile once again on Virginia this Saturday. I, for one, am willing to drink as many orange vanilla Coca-Colas as it takes to at least appease the advertising gods...

At the minimum, enjoy the moment as we get to watch Virginia play in its first Final Four since 1984. Let us hope that their story isn’t over yet and that Saturday’s chapter could be the penultimate...with one final chapter still to be written.

The Statistics

Category UVA Category Auburn
Category UVA Category Auburn
Defensive Pts/Game 1st (56.7) Offensive Pts/Game 28th (80.2)
Offensive 3Pt% 7th (39.4%) Defensive 3Pt% 196th (34.5%)
Defensive 3Pt% 4th (28.7%) Offensive 3Pt% 31st (37.9%)
Offensive Effeciency 4th (1.141) Offensive Effeciency 10th (1.117)

Hoo’s Hoo?

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Virginia Cavaliers

Kyle Guy, G

After going cold for the first three games of the NCAA Tournament, Kyle Guy caught fire for 25 points and five threes against Purdue. It was a welcoming sight for Virginia fans, as Guy’s offensive success could be the real key if the Cavaliers are to make it past Auburn and possibly win it all. The limited offensive possessions of Virginia tend to get more magnified this deep in the tournament. Guy could be the one who will determine the magnification factor.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Virginia Cavaliers

Kihei Clark, G

Critics aside (and I think most have been silenced), first-year guard Kihei Clark has been one of the most clutch players for Virginia in this tournament. In addition to his ferocious defense, Clark has provided an offensive spark in sharp passes or three pointers when the Hoos have needed it badly. This week, Coch Tony Bennett will most likely give heavy minutes again to Clark due to the favorable height matchup against Auburn’s guard, Jared Harper, who stands at 5’ 11”.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Virginia Cavaliers

De’Andre Hunter, F

Hunter, a projected first-round NBA Lottery pick, has been a stalwart for Tony Bennett’s defense - effectively shutting down whoever he is matched up against (let’s just say Carsen Edwards was an anomaly). Although, offensively, Hunter has been performing slightly below average the last three games. Cavalier fans would be thrilled to see him offensively shine against Auburn, who is without their star forward Chuma Okeke.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Auburn Tigers

Jared Harper, G

Junior guard Jared Harper has been big-time for the Tigers all year long. As an integral part to Auburn’s scoring, Harper has continuously shown up big for his team. In the Tigers’ Elite Eight matchup with Kentucky, he dropped 26 points to go along with five assists, two blocks, and three steals. As mentioned above, the Clark-Harper matchup should be an intriguing one to watch - with Harper being a much more offensively minded guard than Clark. We will most likely see big minutes down the stretch from both guards.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Auburn Tigers

Bryce Brown, G

Senior Bryce Brown is a stud for the Tigers. He is Auburn’s leading scorer on the year, averaging 16 points/game, and has only scored in the single digits seven times this season. The shooting guard has shown his ability to shoot lights out in this tournament, going 9-13 against Kansas and 8-12 against Kentucky in field goals. Auburn has relied heavily on Brown and Harper to get buckets throughout the year and their scoring ability will most likely carry the Tigers on Saturday.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Auburn Tigers

Danjel Purifoy, F

Junior Danjel Purifoy is the next man up in the absence of Chuma Okeke. Purifoy has the biggest uptick in minutes due to Okeke’s absence: he had only averaged 11.7 minutes a game, but saw 32 minutes against Kentucky. While he only scored six points, Purifoy also grabbed seven rebounds. Purifoy has the potential to be an X-factor for Bruce Pearl’s team and should be someone to watch on Saturday.

*Paul 1, Matt, and Paul 2 all abstained due to “severe, outcome-specific superstitious reasons” and, unfortunately, are not legally obligated to fill this bet form out.



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