Back in early January, Virginia Basketball went through a rough stretch. There were four losses in five games, including home losses to Syracuse and NC State. This stretch also included a road loss to Boston College. With a 155th KenPom ranking, this is their worst loss of the season by far, at least on paper.
That said, despite having the lowest ranking in the ACC (by a considerable amount), the Eagles sit ninth out of fifteen in the rankings - and they’ve won four of their past eight games, including road wins against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. They’re also coming off a home win over NC State (something the Hoos couldn’t manage).
Of course, that Virginia team from two months ago isn’t the same as the team right now. The current Hoos have won five of six, with the lone loss being a road game against #11 Louisville. Those six games happen to coincide with the breakout from Tomas Woldetensae. Six games ago, he lit up Wake Forest on the road for 21 points on 15 shots. Beginning with that contest, Woldetensae has made 24 of 52 from downtown (46%).
That outside shooting has been the difference for the Hoos over this stretch. Virginia has averaged 55 points per game this season, but in the past six games, that average is almost 61 points per game. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that you’re more likely to win averaging 61 than averaging 55.
Also, maybe you’ve heard, Tomas did this:
Woldetensae played just eight minutes in the first BC game, going 0-2 from the field and not scoring. Considering Tomas has started the past eight games, it seems likely that will change this time around. However, over this six game run, Tomas has shot 20/34 from downtown on the road and just 4/18 at home. It certainly seems like that’s a fluke - there’s no reason to believe that his shooting at home should be worse than on the road. But until he consistently knocks down shots at home, we’ll be a bit wary.
In the first game against BC, Virginia had a five point lead with just over five minutes remaining. BC scored 15 points over that last five minutes to run away with it. During that time period, Virginia missed seven of their final eight shots. BC’s Jay Heath led all scoreres with 17 points that night (on just eight shot attempts) and had five points during that final stretch. Heath had 16 points against NC State on Sunday, but required 14 shots to get there.
Here’s an example of what Heath was doing against Virginia.
This is not a good shot, and this is outstanding defense from Kihei Clark. Sometimes, people just get lucky.
BC also got out to a quick lead in the first matchup, in part by scoring in transition. The Eagles led 15-6 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half and 18-8 with 10 minutes remaining. That was the point when Virginia started to get going.
In the early going for the Hoos, the offense was almost entirely Braxton Key. Key had six of their first eight field goals and totaled 16 points on 12 shots attempts. That included several easy shots inside.
Key is guarded here by 6’5” Jay Heath (off a switch). Heath is not going to be able to handle Key inside. He gambles for the steal, but Key uses his body to shield the ball. In that game, BC big man Nic Popovic did not play but he’s been back healthy recently and actually was in the starting lineup on Sunday against NC State. Without Popovic, the Eagles were stuck with just one big man in Steffon Mitchell, which led to such an advantageous matchup for Key and the other UVa forwards. Those touches in the lane may be tougher to come by with Popovic back due to his size, but he’s not seen as strong defender.
Mitchell, on the other hand, is a good defender and he was focused on Diakite for most of the last matchup and should be again this time. Diakite finished with four offensive rebounds that night but struggled to get going offensively, finishing with just nine points on six shots. Virginia will need a more active Diakite in this rematch for sure.
The Eagles were also without their leading scorer, Derryck Thornton in the game in Boston. Tonight, Thornton is coming off a big game against NC State, scoring 22 points on 11 shots. He was 11/11 from the FT line and only had two turnovers. However, not having Thornton could have been a blessing in disguise for the Eagles as he leads the team in shot attempts, but is under 40% from the field and under 25% from downtown. Combine that with over three turnovers per game, and Thornton is just not a very efficient offensive player. But when he’s getting into the paint and getting to the line, he can have a big impact on the game. It’ll be up to Kihei Clark to keep that from happening. Hopefully, Kihei can force Thornton into outside shots, which should be to Virginia’s benefit.
Despite their decent record and solid play of late, Boston College is still not a good team. They can’t shoot, they turn the ball over a lot, and they don’t really play a ton of defense either. Their defense relies on forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets off of those mistakes. That wasn’t the case against Virginia the last time, but Virginia’s poor shooting made up for the Eagles’ poor defense. Virginia made just 3/16 from downtown and shot just 32% from the field for the game. That’s not going to get it done. Chances are, Virginia doesn’t shoot that poorly tonight and hopefully Jay Heath doesn’t have such a strong shooting display again.