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The Big Basketball Preview: Lehigh at Virginia

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Semifinal-Virginia at Georgia Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off winning the Legends Classic in Newark, Virginia Basketball is back in Charlottesville to face the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. A win would be Tony Bennett’s 300th career win for the Hoos, which would put him just 26 behind Terry Holland for first place.

Lehigh is 1-4, but coming off their first win on Tuesday, over Columbia. Lehigh best performance this year was likely their opening game loss to Rutgers. They led the Scarlet Knights with under a minute left, but lost in overtime.

Virginia is coming off their best performance of the season in a dismantling of a solid Providence squad. Virginia shot 50% from downtown, but attempted just 12 treys, well below their season average. They won the game with their defense and their work on the glass. The perimeter defense, contesting jumpshots was much better and the result was 23% shooting from the Friars. That’s going to win most games. That is the way this Virginia team is going to be successful. They do not have the firepower to win offensively, but there is tremendous potential defensively with this team.

Having a great shot blocker in middle is a big part of the Pack Line. Virginia fans have seen that with Mamadi Diakite (and others), and Kadin Shedrick seems to be very comfortable in that role. This is good defense from Kihei and he makes his man work to get into the paint. Even though Kihei can’t do much to contest the runner, Shedrick is able to erase it. Shedrick is tied for eighth in the nation in blocked shots right now.

The Mountain Hawks are an outlier in this era of college sports. There isn’t a single transfer from this team. The top seven scorers from last season all return, including a pair of seniors named Wilson.

Those two seniors are Marques and Jeameril, though they are apparently not related. They each average 12 points per game, although they do it in very different ways. Marcus is in his fifth season with Lehigh and has been a starter since midway through his freshman season. He actually saw the floor briefly the last time these two teams played, in 2017 (an easy 21 point win for the Wahoos). Wilson is just 6-23 (26%) so far this season from downtown, but he’s a 35% career shooter. He’s most famous for this:

Jeameril is a 39% career shooter from downtown, but doesn’t shoot from outside much. At 6’7” 200, he’s more of a slasher and wants to get to the rack.

As a team, the Mountain Hawks do not shoot a lot of threes. Which is good, as they have not shot the ball well this season, or last. There’s a good amount of size on this team, especially for a low-major. Two big men 6’8” Dominic Parolin and 6’11” Nic Lynch parole the inside, but Marques Wilson is 6’4”, freshman PG Ben Knostman is 6’5” and there’s several wings between 6’4” and 6’7”. That size could cause some problems for Virginia on the perimeter.

Knostman does not shoot very much, and is averaging three turnovers per game. But he does seem capable when he has a mismatch.

There would not be a whole lot Kihei could do to stop this. Knostman is also 2-4 from downtown in the early going, so he’s someone to watch.

Neither Parolin now Lynch are going to step outside to shoot, which means Virginia’s bigs can focus on their interior play. Parolin is the guy to watch down there. He’s averaging nine rebounds per game and he gets to the line a lot. Shedrick has struggled with foul trouble this year, so he needs to be careful.

This Virginia team has forced turnovers a much higher rate than we are used to from Tony Bennett’s teams. That changed against Providence, as the Hoos forced just eight turnovers. Was that by design? Is it, perhaps, less focus for steals and deflections that allowed Virginia to force Providence into such poor shooting? Or was Providence just more careful with the ball? We may find out, as Lehigh are one of the most turnover happy teams in the nation and Virginia could find some easy buckets in transition off turnovers. That is what happened in that 2017 game, as Virginia forced 17 turnovers and had 12 fast break points. Here’s one of those fast-break buckets.

The Mountain Hawks have size and some good athletes. But they don’t have the perimeter shooting or the talent that Virginia has. As long as they don’t get hot from outside, this should be a relatively easy win for the Wahoos.

Virginia is favored by 19 points per DraftKings. Tip-off is at 7:00 pm on the ACC Network.