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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia Returns to Action against William and Mary

Aaaand we’re back! (Hopefully!)

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Towson David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since the Virginia Cavaliers have taken the court, with COVID-19 issues within the Virginia program leading to postponements of scheduled games against Michigan State, Wake Forest, and William & Mary, and an outright cancellation of the highly anticipated contest against Villanova. As Virginia returns to action for the first time in 17 days, keep an eye out to see if there is rust or early struggles as the team gets its collective feet back under it. Hopefully, even during the quarantine period, most of the team were able to at least get individual workouts and practice in.

Although both William and Mary and Virginia have played four games, the Tribe have played three games since Virginia last saw the court. That could give them an advantage if the Hoos are rusty or out of game shape.

That advantage would be big for the Tribe, as the talent disparity between these teams is rather large. The Tribe rank 255th in KenPom, which is in the same range as the two blowout wins Virginia has this year. They are also coming off a home loss to 250th ranked (KenPom) High Point. And not just a loss, they lost by 22. The Tribe are a young team, with really only one returning starter and a number of freshmen getting big minutes.

That High Point loss largely came down to not making shots. Heading into that game, the Tribe were shooting the ball well. But not on Saturday, when they missed their first 10 from the field and ended up just 5/27 (18%) from outside and 11/28 (39%) from inside. Does that mean they are due for a good shooting performance, or is that some regression to the mean after a hot shooting first few games? High Point

For example, freshman Connor Kochera made eight of his first nine treys. And then shot 1-5 on Saturday. Obviously, he is not a 90% shooter from three because, well, nobody is. He’s still made 9-of-14 (64%) overall. What is his true ability?

So far, Kochera has taken two-thirds of his shots from downtown, and he’s just 1/7 from inside the arc. He can shoot, and he’s just going to spot up and wait for those opportunities.

These two teams last played almost exactly two years ago, a 72-40 win for the good guys. Virginia won that game by dominating on the inside, with a 42-24 edge on the glass. That should be the formula again this week as the Tribe simply do not have much size inside. Their roster includes just two players over 6’7” and none over 6’9”. Virginia, of course, has no fewer than five guys over 6’7” getting run and at least two over 6’9” (7’1” Jay Huff and 6’11” Kadin Shadrick).

Virginia also has length on the wings, with 6’5” Tomas Woldetensae, 6’8” Sam Hauser and 6’9” Trey Murphy. That length will pay dividends because the Tribe also have perimeter size as well. Luke Loewe (6’4”), Quinn Blair (6’7”), Thornton Scott (6’5”) and Kochera (6’5”), are all getting wing minutes. All of those guys can shoot the rock so having the length to defend those shots is important.

Two big men rotate for the Tribe, Mekhel Harvey and freshman Ben Wight. Interestingly, the freshman Wright has started three of the first four games. Harvey started against High Point, but then played his fewest minutes of the season.

Harvey is 11-of-18 from the field thus far this year, mostly on shots like this. He didn’t play much his first two seasons, but he did shoot 7-of-11 from the field in his limited minutes. He’s also under 50% from the FT line. He’s looking for dunks and that’s about it.

Loewe is their leading scorer and he’s tough to handle. He was All-Defense in the CAA last year and also led the conference in three point shooting at 44%. He is 8/16 so far on the season. He does not need a lot of space. Loewe also had 10 assists against ODU with passes like this (Kochera knocking down the three).

As you may have heard, the Hoos will be facing #1 Gonzaga on Saturday night in Texas. That’s a big game. The Wahoos have not played in a while and this game lets them get their legs back under them and get ready for the level of difficulty to increase dramatically.