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The Big Preview: Virginia returns to action against Georgia Tech

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 09 Virginia at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off yet another hiatus—this time just a week—resulting from opponents facing Covid-19 issues. For a team hitting its stride and coming off a big win over Clemson last week, the break was likely all but welcome.

They get back to it against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who have won four straight, but the Jackets are coming off their own layoff as they hadn’t played in over two weeks prior to Wednesday’s game. The Jackets have had a weird season, with wins over Kentucky and UNC, but some bad early season losses including a 4OT loss to Georgia State. They are coming off an 18 point home win over Clemson. Does that make Virginia’s shellacking of the Tigers look less impressive? Maybe.

The Jackets are led in scoring by Moses Wright, who also leads the team in rebounds. Can’t think of too many ACC players who improved more than Wright has over his career. After barely playing the beginning of his freshman year and shooting 2/31 from downtown as a freshman, Wright is now fifth in the conference in scoring and 14th in rebounds. He’s also up to 42% on threes, though he has not attempted enough to feature among the league leaders.

There’s really nothing you can do about that. Truth is, Tony Bennett and company will likely be OK with Wright shooting from out there.

Wright is not the best player on the team though. That honor goes to senior PG Jose Alvarado. Alvarado has also improved since his freshman year, but unlike Wright he was a contributor from day one.

Alvarado’s quickness gets him into the paint and he’s become better and better at finishing inside. He’s making over 60% of his inside shots this year, after a high of 54% a year ago.

The entire starting lineup, including those two, are upperclassmen. Michael DeVoe is third on the team in scoring, at 15 per game. The other two are transfers who are each in their second year with the Jackets. Jordan Usher (USC) is a bigger wing and is shooting 38% on threes while providing strong perimeter defense. And although Bubba Parham (VMI) starts at SG, he’s really more of a PG than SG, which allows Alvarado to take on more of a scoring role. Alvarado is averaging over 17 points per game, up from 14 last year and 12 his first two years. His assist rate has stayed relatively steady though.

The trio of Wright, Alvarado and DeVoe are within four total FGA on the season. That group will take the Jackets as far as they can go. DeVoe is a high volume shooter, and the least efficient of the three. But he can shoot and pass and create, so he’s very dangerous with the ball in his hands. He’s also left-handed.

Josh Pastnor will use DeVoe as a primary ball-handler in the screen and roll, as above. Wright is pretty open, and DeVoe is eventually able to find him. This is Wright’s strength, finishing inside. The outside shots are something he can do, but not a preference for him or his team.

Usher is also a capable creator, and is dangerous on the perimeter against bigger defenders. Sam Hauser may struggle on Usher on the perimeter. We could see the Hoos go small with either Hauser or Huff on the bench, putting 6’9” Trey Murphy on Usher and Casey Morsell on DeVoe.

Of course that lineup would impact Virginia on the offensive end. Georgia Tech really does not have much size. Only Wright and seldom used big man Rodney Howard are taller than Usher’s 6’7”. Virginia likely has at least two, if not three, players taller than Usher on the floor.

To combat that lack of size, the Jackets will show some zone looks. They played a lot of zone against Clemson, and it helped them win. Although Clemson was over 1ppp in the game, and shot over 50% from downtown, the Jackets were able to hold their own inside.

Here’s the zone. It looks like a 1-3-1 zone and Clemson is easily able to find Amir Simms in the middle. Virginia will do the same, often with Hauser in the middle. If he has that much space, he’s not going to miss that 15 footer.

Against UNC, the Jackets were crushed on the glass (37-25), but mostly kept the Heels from getting easy buckets. They also shot lights out (10/22 from downtown), which was enough to fight off the Heels in a back and forth game that was close throughout.

That’s the Jacket’s chance against Virginia. The Jackets starting five can play with anybody, but they have no depth and no size outside of Wright. They need to hit enough outside shots to make up for those shortcomings inside. And hope that their opponents have an off night shooting the ball. Virginia has enough talent and depth on the perimeter that this should not be the case, especially at home.