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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia Cavaliers face off against Kent State

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

That was more like it, with the Virginia Cavaliers jumping out to a big lead over St Francis and coasting home. It wasn’t perfect. Like Tony (we assume), we are a bit concerned about the second half struggles, something we saw against San Francisco and, to a lesser degree, Towson as well. Over the past few years, Virginia Basketball has found great success being a second half team, so keep an eye out on that.

Games are going to start getting quite a bit more difficult, as Virginia has Michigan State next week, not to mention Villanova and the start of ACC play in the next couple of weeks. But that’s down the road, and right now, the focus is on Kent State.

It’s tough to get a read on the Golden Flashes because they’ve only played one game and it came against NAIA Point Park, which apparently is a thing. They won 90-41, which sounds impressive, but it’s Point Park. Last year’s team finished 20-12 and ranked 128th on KenPom. But that team was led by a bunch of seniors, and the roster turnover from last year to this year is ridiculous.

Just five players from last year’s squad return, and just one starter. That’s big man Danny Pippen, last year’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. Two of the four returners combined to play a total of 168 minutes on the season and don’t appear to be a big part of this year’s team either.

Pippen may be the top big man on the team, but he’s more of a perimeter player than a post player.

This is from last year against Ohio State. This is a strong move for a big man. He attempted 164 threes last year, making under 32%. If Kent State wants their best rebounder standing 22 feet from the basket shooting threes, Virginia will be fine with that. Pippen was 0-7 from downtown against Point Park.

Other than Pippen, this team is almost all transfers and freshmen. The starting five against Point Park was Pippen and Giovanni Santiago along with two transfers and one JUCO signee (from the same school as Tomas Woldetensae, Indian Hills CC). Of the four reserves who saw significant playing time, three are JUCO and one is a redshirt freshman, so not a lot of experience at this point in DI basketball.

Santiago was a reserve PG as a freshman last year, but does look like he can shoot it a little bit. He was 2-3 from downtown against Point Park, and 8-8 from the FT line last year.

The Golden Flashes leading scorer against Point Park was Mike Nuga, a transfer from Portland State. He shot 33% from downtown in 2018-19, but excelled at getting to the rim.

Nuga is a physical, athletic wing who will try to get to the rim and draw contact. This play is from two years ago against Stanford, where he dropped 17 points on 7/16 from the field. He also had 9 rebounds and 2 steals.

Pippen’s counterpart in the front court is 6’11” Justyn Hamilton, from Temple. He did not play much at Temple, but he had 8 points and 14 rebounds in 23 minutes against Point Park. We’ll see what he does against a real team with actual size, but that’s a pretty impressive Kent State debut.

Obviously, it’s tough to scout a team that hasn’t played much, and especially a team with so many new bodies. For the Hoos, this means the focus is on playing their brand of basketball and not letting Kent State get going. In the game against Point Park, the Golden Flashes shot 5/29 from three. They won easily because they dominated inside and forced 24 turnovers. Neither of those things are going to happen against Virginia.

Yes, Danny Pippen is a solid interior player, and Nuga is a strong wing. But Virginia also has solid interior players, strong wings, and a heck of a lot more depth, talent and experience. The Hoos should not have much trouble with this young, inexperienced team.