Based on the analytics, this should be the easiest matchup of the season for the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team. North Carolina A&T ranks 356th per KenPom and 361st per Bart Torvik. There are 362 DI teams. The results match as well. The Aggies lost 100-52 to Pitt and were blown out by UNC Greensboro as well.
This was actually a solid team last year that won 13 games. Their leading scorer from last season is now on NC State (though not yet eligible to play). Almost all of last year’s team is gone, and what came in is unproven.
Let’s take a look at five things to watch for the ‘Hoos against the Aggies.
1. Virginia’s frontcourt rotation
After the game Blake Buchanan had against Florida, he may have earned his way into the starting five. After all, he started the second half against the Gators. Was that a matchup thing, due to Florida’s size? Will Jacob Groves continue to be the starting at the 5?
We saw a few minutes with both Groves and Buchanan on the floor, and it did not go well. Granted it was just 5 minutes against Florida, but the team was -19 per 100 possessions. The defense was the problem, as Virginia was left without enough perimeter defenders. The team has also struggled with neither of the bigs on the floor, so don’t expect to see much of that going forward.
Buchanan’s ability to defend the rim is a huge plus in the Packline. It allows Virginia’s perimeter defenders to defend the three point line more aggressively, knowing there is a shot blocker waiting behind them. Groves does not provide that. Jordan Minor might, but we haven’t really seen enough of the Merrimack transfer to know.
2. Three Point Shooting
Through two games, Virginia is shooting 42.5% from three. That ranks 27th in the nation right now and would’ve led the country last season. If Virginia truly is an elite three point shooting team, the ceiling for this team is very high. The most successful three point shooting team Tony Bennett has had was the 2019 Championship team, which finished 8th in the country. (The 2016 team shot a slightly higher percentage, but finished 10th in the nation.)
Through two games, NC A&T have taken almost half of their shots from downtown. And they rank 260th nationally, making just 27%. Landon Glasper, who is their leading scorer through 2 games, shot 0/12 from downtown against Pitt. That’s…not good. He was 5/11 against Greensboro, and shot 39% last year in JUCO.
Everybody on this roster seems willing to shoot threes. Kyle Duke is one of few returners from last year, and he has made 4/8 through the first two games. In 50 previous games, he had attempted just 11 treys, though playing time over those 50 games was limited. The Aggies are very much built on shooting the three, and Virginia will defend accordingly.
3. NC A&T Frontcourt Defense
The Aggies have little size. One big, 6’9” 215-pound freshman Nikolaos Chitikoudis, had three offensive boards in just 20 minutes against Greensboro. He hasn’t provided much offensively yet, and he has struggled defensively as well.
He just completely loses his man and gives up the dunk. This sorta looks like something we saw against Florida.
This is what happens when you try to double Beekman at the point of attack. Easy dunk for Buchanan. This may be something we see a lot of between these two.
4. Leon Bond’s Playing Time
Bond stole the show against Tarleton State with his athleticism and hustle.
Then, he barely played against the Gators. He saw four minutes, during one stretch in the first half, and did not play in the second half. Andrew Rohde played the entire half. Rohde is second on this team in minutes played, but has yet to really impress offensively. That is supposed to be his strength. While he’s been solid defensively, for the most part, defense and rebounding are Bond’s calling cards, and those are things this team needs. If Rohde isn’t making shots or getting the rim, then why not see more Bond?
Bond is guarded here by Florida star Riley Kugel, who is similarly sized. But Kugel can’t keep Bond off the glass. It was a win, so there’s little reason to question Tony’s rotations. But it seems like Bond’s ability on the glass, especially when guarded by wings, would be beneficial against a team that was dominating the glass.
Bond’s playing time may be up and down this year, depending on matchups. But he might just be too good to sit on the bench for an entire half.
5. Ryan Dunn’s Offense
Through two games, Dunn is averaging 7.5 ppg on 10 total FGA. Half of those FGA are threes, and only one has dropped. He just hasn’t looked comfortable in the offense. He’s seemed lost at times.
His points have largely come on fast breaks or offensive boards. He had a huge put-back late against Florida, but has just seemed passive on the offensive end. For this team to reach its ceiling, Dunn needs to be a more active participant in the offense.
I don’t have a video clip of it, but Dunn was guarded by Florida’s 6’2” Walter Clayton off a switch. And he ended up taking a fall away jumper in the lane, which was not particularly close. He should not need to fade away against a guy like that. He needs to rise up and finish!
Obviously, no Virginia fan is ever going to completely take a game for granted. But a team that nearly gets doubled-up by Pitt is really not going to pose a real threat to the Wahoos. Virginia will roll. The questions in this game are about how things will progress this season as the opposition becomes more competitive.