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The Big Basketball Preview: Radford at Virginia

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

Virginia Cavaliers Basketball gets back at it again after their surprising loss to Navy, hosting the Radford Highlanders at JPJ on a Friday night. The Hoos are 6-0 all-time against Radford, but they haven’t faced off since 2010, Tony Bennett’s first season.

The Highlanders finished 15-12 last year with a 12-6 conference record. But their best win was over KenPom’s 211th ranked Campbell College. They also lost to 326th ranked Presbyterian.

Yes, Virginia’s loss to Navy was surprising, to say the least. But we knew there would be growing pains with this Virginia team due to all the new faces and new roles. Virginia lost six of their top eight players from last year, including the top three. That puts a lot of pressure on the remaining two (Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman) to step into bigger roles. Both are best when creating for others, not trying to score for themselves. That means guys like Jaylen Gardner, Kadin Shedrick and Armaan Franklin need to pick up the scoring load.

Against Navy, only Gardner did that, dropping 18 points on 7-13 from the field, including this nice post move, getting the “And-1”. Gardner also had a game high 10 rebounds. Franklin was just off, and Shedrick was a bit too passive. Against these smaller teams, Virginia needs Shedrick to get more than five FGA. He also needs to stay out of foul trouble.

This is a nice little pick and roll between Beekman and Shedrick. And the big man can also be used on a pick and pop, because he has shooting range. Virginia needed more of this.

Obviously, the long stretch of scoreless basketball is troubling, but giving up over 1 point-per-possession to Navy is even more concerning. Navy shot the ball well, and their offense is solid. But it’s not on the level of ACC programs or Houston (Virginia’s next opponent after this game).

Radford were led last year by freshman PG Fah’Mir Ali. He led in points, assists, steaks, usage rate, FG attempts, FT attempts, etc. In short, he was the offense. He’s moved on to College of Charleston. Thing is, though Ali was a good distributor, he was turnover-prone and couldn’t actually shoot. So he actually wasn’t particularly good for the Radford offense.

Replacing Ali at PG is Xavier Limpscomb, another true freshman from last year who saw extended action. Limpscomb isn’t the playmaker Ali is, but he’s a much better shooter. He’s also bigger at 6’2” 195.

In Radford’s opener, Limpscomb had just 5 points on 2-6 shooting, but led the team in minutes and assists. The Highlanders were led by Rashaun Williams, a transfer from USF. He had 13 points on 5-8 shooting (3-5 from downtown). Williams shot just 28% in three years at USF, so this was a bit out of character for him. The trey was a big part of Radford’s win over Emory and Henry, as they knocked down 11 of 22 treys. Four different guys hit at least two treys, including Dravon Mangum (3/6) and Camron McNeil (2/5).

Mangum is one to watch. He’s a 6’8” stretch-four who could give Virginia problems. For his career he’s just 30% from downtown, on around three attempts per game. But he can also get to the rim, so if he’s hitting the outside shot, he’s dangerous. Check out this sweet move and finish from last year’s Virginia Tech game.

Mangum had 12 points on 4/10 shooting in that matchup against the Hokies (a 77-62 win for VT), but Vanderbilt held him scoreless in 20 minutes in their only other major conference matchup.

Although he wasn’t a huge part of the win last time out, VCU transfer Lewis Djonkam is probably Radford’s best player. At 6’9” 245 the big man is, predictably, a beast in the paint and on the offensive glass. Emory and Henry are small, and wanted to play in transition, leaving Djonkam out of place. He saw just 17 minutes in what was likely closer than Radford had hoped for.

The Hoos gave up 10 offensive boards (32%) on Tuesday, and Djonkam is a better rebounder than anybody for Navy. So can Virginia keep Djonkam off the glass?

One issue Radford had last year, and seems to have continued, is turnovers. The Highlanders turned the ball over on 24% of their possessions last year, one of the worst rates in the nation. They were at 22% against their DII opponent on Tuesday. They also forced 16 TOs (21%), which allowed them to get into transition. That likely isn’t something they’re going to get much against Virginia, but they’ll take it when its available.

This is Mangum with the sweet reverse off a turnover in that Hokie game last year.

Radford will use the same formula as Navy. They also return most of last year’s roster, and will play tough interior defense trying to force Virginia into outside shots. If Virginia continues to struggle to knock down shots, Radford will keep this game close. If Virginia is knocks down open shots, they should put this game away early.

Look, Virginia clearly didn’t play well on Tuesday. They struggled to knock down shots, they struggled on the glass, and they turned the ball over too much. Navy is a veteran team that took advantage of Virginia’s miscues. If that’s the same Virginia team we’re going to see all year, it’s going to be a long season. But let’s trust Tony Bennett and his coaching staff to figure things out, and do it quickly. Virginia should be able to handle Radford and move their attention to a very good Houston team this coming Tuesday.