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The Big Preview: Virginia Heads to Chestnut Hill to Face Boston College

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

Last Saturday afternoon against the Virginia Tech Hokies may have been the best outing of the season for the Virginia Cavaliers basketball team. As always, the defense was first-rate, but this time, the offense also showed up, putting together 1.05 points per possession for the second best output of the season, behind Navy the week before.

Coming off a bye week, the Boston College Eagles are 8-6 on the year with some bad losses, but they’re sitting at 2-1 in the ACC with wins at Notre Dame and against Wake, and a loss to No. 2 Duke. Other notable losses include at home to Belmont (KenPom #94), St Louis (#98) and Northwestern (#109).

Last year’s BC team was not particularly good, and from that team, BC is down their top three scorers, losing Ky Bowman to the Golden State Warriors, Nic Popovic to a back injury after averaging about 12 points over the first nine games of this season, and Wyston Tabbs to an offseason surgery. So now, BC’s leader is newbie graduate transfer Derryck Thornton.

If that name is familiar to you, it’s because he started his career at Duke and played for them the entire 2015-16 season. He then went to USC and sat out a year. He hasn’t really lived up the hype of being the No. 19 player and No. 3 PG in the nation back from his recruiting days. Instead, his career shooting percentage is just 38% and he’s under 30% from downtown, and while he leads the Eagles in scoring at over 13 per game, he’s not actually been a good offensive player, evidenced by his sub-40% field goal shooting. He’s also averaging 3.4 assists per game, but 3.5 turnovers per game. A PG with more turnovers than assists—that’s just not helping your team.

Thornton gets a step on his man, but pulls up 15 feet away instead of forcing the Duke big man to commit. He has the athleticism to finish inside, but he does this time and time again. He makes the shot here, but obviously isn’t making it often enough.

In the Eagles’ win over Notre Dame, Thornton had 19 points on 9/12 shooting, and when that happens, BC becomes a pretty formidable opponent. Against Duke last week, Thornton had six points on 3/12 shooting. When that happens, BC isn’t likely to beat anybody. Thornton is at his best in transition, which works well for this BC team who likes to get out and run. In the past few years, with Bowman, Jordan Chatman and Jerome Robinson, they’ve had the horses to be successful doing that, but that’s not clear yet for this season.

Despite playing at over 71 possessions per game, the Eagles average just 66 points per gam—they turn the ball over a lot, they can’t shoot, they don’t do much on the offensive glass and they don’t get to the line very much.

They’ll often take the first shot available. And when you’re 252nd in three point shooting and 272nd in effective FG%, that’s probably not a good thing.

This is not a good shot and ultimately it leads to a fast break for the Blue Devils. Ever since the game against South Carolina, Virginia has gotten out in transition a lot more, so BC’s poor shot selection could be something the Hoos can exploit for transition points. Against both Navy and Virginia Tech, there were numerous fast break opportunities.

This one was my favorite. Braxton Key’s ability to handle the ball makes this play happen. If he has to gather the ball and give it to Clark, the defense gets back. Because he immediately starts moving up court, the Hoos get an easy bucket. (Well, ok, nothing about that one-handed alley-oop is easy.)

It seems Tony and his staff have decided that the half-court offense has been so poor, they need to find new ways to get buckets. One of the issues with Virginia’s half-court offense has been turnovers, something BC absolutely feasts on. They’re 24th in the country in forcing turnovers and 13th in generating steals. Taking care of the basketball is going to be very important for Virginia in this one.

Look for Virginia to dominate the paint just as they did against the Hokies, who had very little size in their rotation. Especially with Nic Popovic out, the Eagles just have no size. Steffon Mitchell leads the team in rebounds (by a very wide margin). He’s also a very good defender. He doesn’t have much offensive game, but he can run the floor and finish.

Freshman Jay Heath is second on the team in scoring, and is probably their best offensive player right now. He was a four star recruit out of DC, but wasn’t heavily recruited by the Hoos, who already had Casey Morsell in the fold.

This was basically the game winner against Notre Dame. He has that kinda range, and is shooting about 38% from downtown. He’s the guy who can beat the Hoos. If he gets hot, he can go off for a big game. He had 16 against Notre Dame, including four treys. Virginia will likely open with Morsell on Heath. Morsell has a size and strength advantage, which he’ll have to use to keep Heath from getting open looks.

Thornton isn’t the only double transfer on the roster. Senior Jared Hamilton began his career at Jacksonville State and then moved to Georgia Southern, sitting out a season. Then he was a graduate transfer to BC with two years remaining. He averaged six points per game in about 25 minutes per game last year. This year, he’s up to eight points per game. He’s also shooting 41% from downtown, making him the best deep threat the Eagles have. But he doesn’t play as much or shoot as much as Heath.

The Eagles’ defensive philosophy is high pressure on ballhandlers in order to force turnovers and steals. They don’t actually defend that well on the perimeter and they’re at a big size advantage. Tony will have to judge the benefit of crashing the offensive glass with the risk of giving up fast break points. We all know where Tony sits on that issue, but he may still allow Key and/or Diakite to work the glass on occassion. BC is 276th nationally in defensive rebounding, so there’s an opportunity there for some easy second chance points.

Any road game in conference is tough. Virginia has handled BC pretty well in Chestnut Hill, but this is a different Virginia team. If BC is able to force turnovers and turn them into easy buckets, they could very well win the game. If it’s a half-court contest, Virginia’s size and talent should win out.