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The Big Preview: UVA basketball tips off against #5 Baylor

‘Hoos face their toughest competition yet.

NCAA Basketball: Monmouth-NJ at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of the unfathomable tragedy this past Sunday, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team returns to action tonight against the Baylor Bears. The ‘Hoos head to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Main Event. Their opening game will come against the #5 team in the nation, Baylor. Virginia ranks 16th. The other two teams in this event are UCLA (8th) and Illinois (19th).

This opponent won a national title in 2021, although there is very little left on the roster from that game. That national championship Baylor team was the top shooting team in the nation, making over 41% of their threes. That is a good way to win a championship (UVA’s title team was eighth in the nation). Last year’s Bears team wasn’t nearly as good, knocking down just 34% (131st nationally). Through three games, this year’s team looks improved on that front. They are at 38% so far, 83rd in the nation.

Senior Adam Flagler is the only guy really remaining from the championship team. He led the team in scoring last year (tops among three guys within 0.3 ppg). This year, the spread is bigger as Flagler is averaging 17.3 while shooting 58% (not a typo) on threes. That’s on six attempts per game, in line with his average last year, when he shot 39%. He and Armaan Franklin will probably spend a fair amount of this game guarding each other. There is a good chance that this matchup determines the outcome of this game.

Check out this ball movement. Everybody touches the ball, and Flagler ends up knocking down the open look.

Although Flagler has been ridiculously efficient and leads the team in both scoring and assists, he’s actually third on the team in usage rate. The leader is freshman Keyonte George. The sixth ranked recruit in the country by ESPN, George is dynamic and can also knock down outside shots. He also looks to be a strong perimeter defender.

He’s knocked down 36% of his threes. The only real knock on his game right now is that he may be relying too heavily on the threes. He’s taken two-thirds of his shots from behind the arc. If those shots aren’t falling, can he still get going?

Baylor is going to play four wings for most of the game. At 6’7”, West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges is the nominal four but he is a wing, at least on offense. They rotate a pair of bigs at the five, neither of whom provide much offense, but both of whom can block shots and finish inside.

This is also great ball movement. It’s George with the final pass leading to the dunk for Congolese big man Flo Thamba. This is not good defense from Northern Colorado. Virginia will, of course, be better than that.

Baylor wants to play fast. They want to force turnovers, they want to run, and they want to hit the offensive boards hard. Virginia wants to do the opposite. Controlling tempo will be important. Three-point shooting will also be important, as both teams are shooting a ton of threes early on.

That’s just pretty. Having knock down shooters again is fun. Hopefully, it continues.

Nobody would fault the Wahoos for coming out flat or rusty. They haven’t played in a week. Who knows how much they’ve even practiced. They’ve been through a very emotional week. We trust Tony to have his team as prepared as possible, but he’s never had to deal with something like this before. Who has, really?