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The Big Preview: Regular season finale against Louisville

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Virginia heads to the KFC Yum! Center to face the Cardinals.

Georgia Tech v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It was refreshing to see Virginia Basketball come out on top again after a losing streak, but it was far from a dominating performance. It was, however, enough to get a nice send-off for the seniors and get Austin Katstra into the game. That’s something, especially after several poor outings during the losing streak.

The first half, in general, was outstanding. The Hoos shot 48% from the field and 56% from three. The second half was vastly different, as the shots just weren’t dropping. Overall, the Hoos shot 8/22 (36%) from downtown which is solid. But Sam Hauser was 4/9 (44%), with the rest of the team combining to shoot 4/13 (30%) and that isn’t good. The Hoos really need other guys to step up and knock down shots for the offense to really get going.

The Louisville Cardinals are fourth in the ACC right now, in a virtual tie with Georgia Tech but ahead by winning percentage. Their last game, against the Hokies, was cancelled due to contact tracing within the Virginia Tech program. That makes this a big game for them. A win locks up a double-bye in the ACC tournament while a loss likely moves them down to fifth and gives the Jackets the double-bye. Furthermore, a loss followed by an early exit from the ACC Tournament could potentially knock the Cardinals out of the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals lost a lot from last year’s squad, including their leading scorer (Jordan Nwora), leading rebounder (Dwayne Sutton) and leading assist-man (Lamar Kimble). They actually lost their top four scorers from last year (and the 5th, Malik Williams has played just three games due to injury).

That means they’ve been relying largely on underclassmen this season, along with graduate transfer Carlik Jones. Coming to Louisville from Radford, Jones has been one of the best players in the ACC. He is fourth in the conference in scoring and in assists. He’s also one of the conference leaders in minutes, as he rarely comes off the floor.

Jones is under 33% from downtown on around three attempts per game. Defenders aren’t threatened by the outside shot, and yet he’s still able to get into the paint and finish. Jones had 25 points on 9/18 (1/1 from downtown) shooting against Duke. Jeremy Roach is a strong defender and Jones just blew right by him.

After Jones, pretty much the entire Cardinal rotation is freshmen and sophomores. Sophomore David Johnson is the only one who saw real playing time last season. Johnson is the second leading scorer this year, and the only real outside shooting threat. Johnson is 29/74 (40%) from downtown on the season. He made just 21% last year, but his playing time was sporadic. Nobody else on the Cardinals has made more than 17 treys. Five Cavaliers have made more than 17 treys this year.

This comes off a broken play. Johnson spots up outside the three-point line and waits for the pass. If he has that kinda space, he’s going to knock it down. Gotta stick with Johnson.

The other wing along with Johnson is freshman Dre Davis. Davis has proven adept at getting to the rim. He’s still not a great finisher and he’s made just 23% from downtown on over two attempts per game. If he learns how to shoot, he’ll be dangerous.

Louisville is one of the least three-point happy teams in the nation. That’s a good thing for the Hoos, who have struggled to defend the three point shot this year at times. On the season, the Hoos have allowed around 34% shooting from downtown, ranking 174th nationally. But in their five losses, they’ve allowed 47% shooting from downtown. Needless to say, you aren’t going to win many basketball games if your opponent knocks down almost half their threes.

This is Samuel Williamson.

And this one is Dre Davis.

Neither of these guys are shooters. But that baseline three is an easier shot and that’s a shot these guys have proven capable of knocking down. They like to spot up in that corner on the secondary-break. Virginia’s perimeter defenders need to be sure to find them in those situations.

With Malik Williams hurt, Louisville doesn’t have a real big man. The frontcourt rotation is 6’8” freshman Jae’lyn Withers, 6’8” sophomore Quinn Slazinski and Williams (6’7”). Withers is essentially the center, and leads the team in rebounds. Against Duke, that duo combined for 30 points on 10/14 shooting and 21 rebounds. They also kept Duke big man Mark Williams in check, with just 8 points (4/8 FG) and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes. However, Duke’s Matthew Hurt dropped 37 points on 15/21 shooting (2/6 from downtown). Hurt is similar to Sam Hauser, so there’s some potential for a huge game from him.

Without seeing what led up to this play, it is difficult to judge what happens at the end. Carlik Jones is guarding Hurt, trying to deny the ball. But Hurt is just too big and the pass goes over Jones’ head. Louisville has help defenders behind Hurt, but once he gets the ball there he’s always going to score or get fouled out. In this case, it was both. Was it a switch or is this something like we saw Georgia Tech do with Jose Alvarado on Sam Hauser? Hurt is a bit more physical than Hauser (and a bit bigger), and Alvarado is a better defender than Jones. Hauser scored just 8 points in that game, but had 10 rebounds and 5 assists and was used more as a decoy. If Jones is on Hauser, then Virginia’s guards should have mismatches on the perimeter.

A few weeks ago, Louisville played UNC in Chapel Hill and were absolutely demolished. UNC’s four-headed-big-man-monster combined for 57 points, three more than Louisville’s entire team. UNC won that game by 45 points. Might we see a lineup with Huff and Francisco Caffaro on the floor together to take advantage of Louisville’s lack of size?

Louisville is playing a zone here, which is not a normal thing for them. And it’s weird against such a big team that really can’t shoot the ball. Day’Ron Sharpe doesn’t even have good position here, just moves to the ball quickly and gets the putback.

Despite that lack of size, Louisville is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams. That’s almost entirely due to Williamson and Withers. Even in that UNC game, that duo combined for 12 offensive boards. The real culprit for the Cardinals was on the perimeter as they shot just 1/16 from downtown against the Heels. Virginia’s weakness is defending against perimeter shooters, and Louisville’s weakness is shooting.

Chances are they won’t shoot 1/16 again this time playing at home. But as long as Virginia outshoots the Cardinals from three-point range, they should be able to hold their own in the paint and come away with a victory.