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Five things to watch for Virginia basketball vs NC Central

Previewing Virginia’s last game before the exam break.

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Riding high off a blowout win over Syracuse, the Virginia Cavaliers get one final game before entering the exam break. The NC Central Eagles come to JPJ for the second year in a row, and the second time ever. Last year, Virginia won 63-61 in the season opener for both schools.

That game was a little too close for comfort for Wahoo fans. NC Central briefly had a lead early in the second half before Virginia went on a run and put the game away. This year’s Eagles squad just lost, at home, to USC Upstate (284 on KenPom). They lost by 43 to Kansas. The ‘Hoos have been good this year about putting away the low-major schools they’ve faced this year, with three 30-point wins in three games.

The defensive glass

The Hoos were better on the glass against Syracuse. The Orange still had 10 offensive rebounds, but that was just 28% of their misses. And Syracuse had just 7 second chance points.

There isn’t a lot that NC Central does particularly well offensively. They can’t shoot, they don’t pass. But they do hit the offensive glass. A two-headed big man rotation of Perry Smith and Emmanuel Izunabor hit the offensive glass hard. They may not have the seven footers who’ve given Virginia problems this season. But they have length and depth in the frontcourt. And since they can’t shoot, they know they need to hit the glass to score.

Elijah Gertrude

Give me more of everything in this clip. Gertrude playing lock down defense, including a block, and then leaking downcourt for an open dunk. This guy had played fewer than 20 minutes of college basketball at that point, and didn’t play at all last year due to an ACL injury.

One benefit of the blowout over Cuse was the extended playing time that Gertrude got. That included some time spent running the point. He didn’t look great, but it was garbage time and yet Cuse mostly had starters still out there.

Gertrude did have a nice drive and bucket. That said, he still looks far better on defense than he does on offense. The offense should come. Fans should get another extended look at Gertrude, assuming this game goes as expected.

Andrew Rohde’s improvement and confidence

Last year, at St Thomas, Rohde used over 28% of his team’s possessions (94th nationally in usage rate). He shot just 33% on almost six three-point attempts per game. But he also had an assist rate of nearly 25%, got the line a ton, and make 80% of his FTs. He was an efficient scorer for a team that needed it.

So far this year, and it’s still early, Rohde’s usage rate is just 17%, his assist rate and free throw rate are both far down from last year. He is just 3-6 from the charity stripe. The only thing he’s really doing well is shooting the ball, up to almost 36% on 3.5 attempts per game.

Over the past two games, arguably Virginia’s best two games of the season, Rohde has shot 5/12 (42%) from three point land, with 3.5 assists and 11.5 points per game. He used 27% of possessions against A&M, but just 15% against Cuse (that was, in part, due to the game being a blowout).

Early on, this is in the running for best pass of the season. This is the Rohde we need to see. Aggressive, making plays for himself and others. And spacing the floor with his outside shot.

Three-point shooting

Speaking of spacing the floor, we have seen what Tony Bennett’s teams can do when they have high caliber defenders, athleticism, and jump shooting. From 2015 through the Championship season, Virginia finished in the top 40 in the nation in three point shooter every year. And they won a LOT of basketball games. Only once since then have they finished in the top 40.

This year’s team is up to almost 39% from three, ranking 30th nationally. They were 12-21 against Cuse. These are good shots. Catch and shoot threes. Against Cuse, there were several corner threes, which are a little closer and therefore easier.

Drive and dish.

Pick and pop.

All of these shots are due to Beekman. Defenders gravitate towards him, and he is so good at finding open shooters. Reece is 4th in the nation in assist rate.

Run out dunks

Beekman is 13th in the nation in steal rate. Dunn is 9th. All those steals often lead to transition opportunities. The last time Virginia faced a low-major team, we got this dunk from Ryan Dunn.

It’s been a while since Virginia had the type of athletes they have right now. Dunn, Beekman, Leon Bond, Elijah Gertrude. That’s a ton of hops. Those run outs and big dunks don’t happen as much in ACC play, with a higher level of competition. So enjoy it while you can.