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The Big Preview: Virginia at Louisville

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

The Virginia Cavaliers’ loss to FSU last week likely ended any chance they had of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. This means that making the big dance will take an ACC Tournament Championship.

Is that possible? Of course. Is it likely? Not by a long shot. Virginia currently ranks T-6th in the ACC, meaning they would have to win four games in four days to win the tournament. That would likely include wins over three of ACC’s top four.

The Hoos have one more regular season game before that happens, against a plummeting Louisville Cardinals squad. The Cardinals are 12-17 (6-13 ACC). That is after starting the season 10-4 (4-0). Although the outcome of this game doesn’t really impact Virginia’s postseason chances, it is obviously preferable to come away with a win against a team that has lost 13 of their past 15 games.

Virginia and Louisville have already played once this season, back at the end of January. That game was a relatively easy Virginia win (64-52). Louisville Head Coach Chris Mack was fired a day later. In his stead, Mike Pegues is the interim head coach for the rest of this season.

An interesting thing about that game was that Virginia completely dominate in the paint against a bigger Louisville team. Virginia won the rebounding battle 37-26. Virginia won the points in the paint battle by just four points (26-22). But Virginia also attempted 14 FTs against just 3 for the Cardinals. Louisville took half of their shots from behind the arc, which is not a surprise as they are one of the more three-point heavy teams in the nation (over 42% of their shots). They combine that by being atrocious at shooting the basketball (30%, ranking 310th in the nation).

Virginia opened the game hot, opening up a 22-5 lead at the 12 minute mark of the first half. Louisville opened the game 3/12 from the field with eight of those shots coming from downtown (1-8 on three pointers).

This was Louisville’s first paint basket of the game, and only their second paint attempt. You can see the play comes after almost 10 minutes of game time. Virginia’s Pack Line just had the Cardinals dumbfounded. This is a pretty play though.

Although the game felt over at that point, Louisville did fight back to within four points in the second half. Virginia pulled away again. That is a bad habit for the Hoos.

Another notable thing about that was that the Wahoos had 20 assists on 24 made FGs. That is an insane assist rate of 83%. On the season, Virginia ranks 20th in the nation at just under 60%. Maybe that isn’t too surprising since the Hoos spend most of their time with two PGs on the floor. It also points to Virginia’s lack of isolation players. They often need good passing to get good shots.

Most of those passes don’t come from a sitting position though. Great effort from Franklin and Shedrick to get the bucket and the foul.

On the other hand, Louisville had 10 assists on 21 made FGs. That is a 47.6% assist rate, which is exactly their season assist rate, which ranks 264th nationally. They play fast, shoot too many threes and don’t move the ball enough.

One thing I mentioned in the first preview is that Louisville’s rotation is all over the place. That was true under Chris Mack, and it seems to be true under Mike Pegues. Jae’lyn Withers is the team’s top returning scorer from last season. He has started 15 games this season, but did not start in the earlier matchup. He played just seven minutes in that game. His minutes over the next nine games leading into this afternoon: 14, 24, 26, 30, 25, 30, 33, 6, 7.

Ten different players have started at least five games, and that really isn’t due to injury. Leading scorer Noah Locke (a transfer from Florida), has not started the past six games after starting every game leading up to that. On Tuesday, in a 32 point loss (!) to the Hokies, Locke was scoreless (0-3 shooting) in 28 minutes. (Expect Locke to start this game as part of senior day ceremonies.)

Here’s Locke knocking down a long three against Virginia. He leads the team in FGA, and has taken two-thirds of his shots from downtown, and he makes just 34%. Of course, he makes just 39% of his twos, so I guess it makes sense to shoot threes.

One thing Louisville does have is size. Five different rotation players are 6’7” or more, and eight are over 200 pounds. (Virginia doesn’t even have eight rotation players.) The biggest of those, senior big man Malik Williams did not play against Virginia due to “a coach’s decision”. This comes a month after a suspension for not meeting the standards of the program. Williams is the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder, so his loss was significant. He will also start as part of senior day.

This is simply not a very good Louisville team right now. That doesn’t mean they can’t get hot from outside and knock off a Virginia team with little to play for. It’s senior day, so there will be some emotion for the players. That could be enough.