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The Big Preview: UVA basketball tips off against a talented NC State team

Previewing tonight’s matchup with the Wolfpack.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 22 Virginia at NC State Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The seven game winning streak is over for the Virginia Cavaliers. There is little time to lick their wounds, though, as the schedule gets tough for a little while. First up is a clash with NC State, followed by Duke on Saturday.

NC State comes in riding their own four game winning streak, though not exactly a gauntlet of opposition. The toughest game in their streak was on the road against Wake Forest. They’ve also won at Virginia Tech, but that’s the extent of their road wins. At home, they beat Duke by 24, and Notre Dame by three. How does that happen?

The main reason the Pack have been largely successful is Terquavion Smith. The projected first round pick is what may be called a volume scorer. Smith leads the ACC in scoring at 18.5 points per game. But he is shooting just 38% from the field, and it is hard to be good when you shoot that poorly. Smith also leads the Pack in assists and is a solid playmaker.

If a Virginia player took this shot, Tony would throw a fit and then bench that guy for a while. It’s just not a particularly good shot, but Smith is that talented. And Kevin Keatts wants to play fast. That was also Smith’s second three in the opening two minutes of this game, so he was taking a heat check. Would still infuriate the Virginia coach.

Smith is listed at 6’4” 165. That is rail thin. He’s stronger than he looks, but not enough to really be a good on-ball defender. He gets a decent number of steals, but that’s often a product of the scheme and not really about Smith’s abilities.

This play epitomizes both Smith’s game and the Wolfpack as a team. NC State’s pressure defense leads to Smith’s deflection and steal. And then he takes what is really an ill-advised shot. And, he makes it. Also, check out that score. NC State led 15-0 in that game. Really loving the energy and effort from Duke’s Jeremy Roach. No wonder they got blown out.

Other than Smith, nearly the entirety of last year’s team is gone. The only other returning contributor is a familiar name, Casey Morsell. Morsell shot 20% from downtown over two seasons at Virginia. He is currently 73rd in the nation in three point shooting at 44%. Last year, he shot 35%, but in limited minutes. This year, Morsell is second on the team in minutes and is averaging 12.6 points per game. Morsell is still a very good defender and the matchup between Morsell and Franklin will be an important one in this game. Morsell dropped 21 points in a near upset of Kansas in The Bahamas.

Again, you see the turnover leading to the break. Morsell runs the wing and is always looking to spot up on the wing. This is a wide-open rhythm jumper he’s not going to miss very often. As mentioned, Morsell has had some big games, including the Kansas game. He struggled in the blowout over Duke, but still managed to play good defense on Roach, holding him without a bucket.

The rest of the Wolfpack rotation is Jarkel Joiner (transfer from Mississippi), Greg Grant (Providence), DJ Burns (Winthrop), Jack Clark (LaSalle), L.J. Thomas (freshman) and Ernest Ross (sophomore who averaged 1 point per game last year). Clark has been out for a while. He may be back for this game though. Integrating so many new faces can be tough, but this team is talented.

They aren’t particularly big though. With Clark out, Burns is their only inside presence, but at 6’9” 275, he is quite the presence.

These are back to back possessions early on in that Duke game. Not a lot of guys that big who can do both of these things. Burns had 31 in their road win over Wake Forest, a game in which Smith played just 21 minutes due to foul trouble. Speaking of foul trouble, Burns averages just 22 minutes per game, and it’s because of foul trouble. In their loss to Clemson, he fouled out in 19 minutes.

The upside to playing two point guards almost all the time, is that pressure defense shouldn’t bother them. But we’ve seen this backcourt struggle at times with full court press. Easiest way to beat the press is to get stops, which makes it difficult to set up the press.

The ‘Hoos have been one of the best outside shooting teams in the nation, but they’re hot and cold. They shot 9/21 (42%) in a tough road win over Syracuse. But the previous game was 6/21 (28%) in the home win over BC.

NC State games aren’t about three point shooting though. They are often about easy buckets. NC State wants to run. If it means giving up some dunks on the other end, they are okay with that.

They don’t want to get into a half-court game with Virginia. The ‘Hoos have the advantage there. So the key will be keeping the Pack from running. No surprise there for a Tony Bennett team.

Another way to keep the game slow is to avoid turnovers. Virginia is quite good at that. They just don’t turn it over. This team is full of sure-handed, high-IQ players. That should lead to success against pressure defense. Add in a dose of high-flying Ryan Dunn and maybe we can get a repeat of this.

Yeah, I just needed to show that. When was the last time we had a guy who could do that? Could Hunter do that? Could Justin? Amazing.