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The Big Preview: UVA men’s basketball takes on Boston College at home

Previewing Saturday’s contest against the Eagles.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 09 Virginia at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers have now won five games in a row, averaging 72 points per game during that stretch. They’ve also given up 63 points per game during that same stretch. On KenPom, Virginia ranks 18th in offense and 24th in defense.

On the season, they are scoring 70 points per game. Last year’s team averaged 62 points per game. The championship team in 2019 averaged about 72 points per game. It’s not all that comparable. This year’s team averages 1.09 points per possession, which is very good. The 2019 team was at 1.14 points per possession, which is elite. The defense in 2019 (0.896 PPP) was also far better than this year’s (.933). That scoring differential was outrageous. This year’s team is good enough to build up the lead, but not consistent enough to keep the lead. That’s the next step before this team can be great.

The Boston College Eagles, on the other hand, aren’t even close to great. The Eagles are 10-11 (4-6 in the ACC), though they are riding a two game winning streak (at Notre Dame and Louisville). They have been tough at home, but that Notre Dame win is their only road win on the season.

In that win over the Irish, the Eagles shot 11-19 (58%) from downtown, led by 4-5 from seven-foot center Quinten Post. This one was his third in the opening four minutes, all from basically the same spot. Maybe guard him there?

Post came on late last year, but then missed the first 13 games this season with a foot injury. Since returning, he is leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Post had 29 points and 14 rebounds against the Irish. He’s not just a shooter.

This was very nearly the game winning shot against Duke. That’s against a good defender in Ryan Young.

Post changes the dynamic of this BC team, at least offensively. Before he returned, the Eagles were averaging 0.95 points per possession offense, which is very bad. Since his return, they are up to 1.04 points per possession, which is solidly mediocre.

Along with Post, four Eagles attempt at least two threes per game. That said, the BC center is the only one over 35%. Mason Madsen, a transfer from Cincinnati who shot 36% in limited playing time for the Bearcats last year, is shooting just 27% this year and leads the team in attempts. He has made 5/12 (42%) over the past four games, so maybe he’s turning it around. Jaedon Zackary shot 48% (!) last year, but is barely over 30% this year.

And then there’s Makai Asthon-Langford. He was their leading scorer with Post out and is shooting 27% from downtown on four attempts per game. He’s a career 27% shooter on over 300 attempts. If you’re a 27% shooter... stop shooting. (By all means, continue to shoot bricks for one more game.) Thing is, Asthon-Langford can play.

This came late in last year’s blowout win for the ‘Hoos, but that’s still Reece guarding him and it’s a heck of a move. Asthon-Langford is also a very good defensive player. Reece and Kihei will have their hands full with Ashton-Langford and Zackary.

The Eagles are 336th in three-point rate and 338th in three-point shooting. That means they don’t shoot it often, and they don’t make them when they do. It’s hard to have a good offense in today’s game without shooting the three.

And, to be clear, BC does not have a good offense. They rank 244th in offensive efficiency (per KenPom). They are better defensively, but 117th isn’t anything to write home about. Their issues defensively are basically a mirror image of their issues on offense. They give up a lot of threes (258th in defensive three point rate), and those shots go in (342nd in three point defense).

This is just very bad defense. Honestly, t’s lazy defense.

The Eagles are also undersized in the backcourt with the two point guards. The get around that by generating steals, leading to transition buckets.

The turnover is forced by Zackary, Ashton-Langford gets it and completes the tough finish. They need those buckets, because they can’t shoot. Not to be repetitive.

They’re also bad in transition defense.

That’s one of the best shooters in the ACC and there’s nobody near him. Everybody is ball watching.

Head Coach Earl Grant hasn’t played Post and 6’9” T.J. Bickerstaff together very much. Bickerstaff can’t score, but he’s a good defender and he’s great on the glass (pulled down eight rebounds in last year’s game against Virginia in just 22 minutes). If they did play together, that would be a lot of size. Would Tony stick with the small ball lineup in that case or would he want to match up bigger? Can Vander Plas hang inside with a seven-footer? Can that seven footer guard Vander Plas on the perimeter? The answer to both might be no.

Incidentally, if the name Bickerstaff is familiar, it’s because his grandfather is long time NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff. Another familiar name may be Donald Hand Jr. who’s father played at Virginia and ranks 19th all-time in scoring and sixth in assists. Wonder where his allegiance will be on Saturday?

Either way, this should be a sixth straight victory for Hand Sr.’s alma mater. Boston College would have to take and make far more threes than they’re accustomed to in order to score enough to keep up with the Wahoos as the matchups are too far in UVA’s favor on the other side of the ball.