It has been quite some time since the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball program has had a stretch this bad. Losing three out of four, or four out of six, isn’t that big of a deal. But getting blown out and embarrassed in all of those games is troubling.
There’s enough talent on this team to beat Florida and Texas A&M. To blow out Syracuse and Louisville. But they just aren’t putting things together on the road. At all.
Luckily, they get to return home for a matchup against a Virginia Tech team going through their own struggles. They have also lost three of four, including a blowout loss at Wake. They are also coming off a 4-point home loss to the Hurricanes. The Hokies are 10-6 (2-3), not far from Virginia’s 11-5 (2-3).
Will we see the Virginia team that is 9-0 at JPJ, and averaging 1.17 points per possession? Or will we see the team that is averaging barely over 1 PPP in ACC play? In two ACC home games, they’ve averaged over 1.3 points per possession. That’s elite. Syracuse and Louisville aren’t good, but neither is Notre Dame.
Game Time: Wednesday, January 17, 7PM Eastern
Three Players to Watch
The Hokies’ leading scorer is one of the most ball-dominant players in the nation. He leads the team in assists and steals along with scoring.
He can shoot. He’s over 37% for his career, and higher than that so far this year. He takes around 5 treys per game, but he’s not just a shooter.
Pedulla creates a dunk for his big man out of nothing. Pedulla’s weakness is that he’s undersized. At 6’1”, he’s not really able to finish inside consistently. He wants to get fouled or he wants to find a pass. In this clip, Pedulla has little chance to score. But the vision to find that pass is elite.
Reece Beekman will want to play tight on Pedulla on the perimeter. If Pedulla can get past Reece, there’s help behind.
As you surely know by now, Jordan Minor moved into the starting lineup this weekend against Wake Forest. The Merrimack transfer saw 22 minutes, after seeing mostly garbage time for much of the season.
The reason for the change is that the Wahoos have just been getting worked in the paint. It isn’t just the glass, where they are terrible. Offensively, the Hoos just don’t get a lot of shots at the rim, and they don’t make them either. Defensively, they allow a lot of shots at the rim, and they allow a high percentage. That is not a good combination.
Kidd is the big for the Hokies. He’s 6’10” and he’s a beast inside. He’s shooting 67% from the field and averages over 7 rebounds per game in just 24 minutes per game. In the loss to Miami, Kidd was 8-8 from the field, but had just 4 rebounds. Kidd is the beneficiary of the great pass from Pedulla in the clip above.
He gets most of his points off dunks, but he is capable of scoring with his back to the basket. This came against American, but that is a seven footer he scores over.
The Hokies will start two bigs, which means Minor should be in the starting lineup again.
If it feels like Cattoor has been in Blacksburg forever, it’s because he has been. This is his fifth season, and he’s been a big part of the team that entire time. He’s also been one of the best shooters in the country that entire time.
For his career, he is shooting almost 42% from downtown. He’s been over 40% in all five of his seasons. He’s 14/32 (44%) against the Hoos in his career. If Cattoor and the Hokies knock down shots, they probably win this game.
Two Key Matchups
It isn’t just that Virginia is missing shots, it’s that they aren’t taking shots. In the three ACC road games, they’ve averaged 12 three point attempts per game. For the season (including those losses), they are averaging 18 three point attempts per game. In the two ACC wins, they averaged 23.5 three point attempts.
This team doesn’t do a lot of things well offensively. But they do have a couple of knock-down shooters. The threat of those shooters can open other things. Obviously, when you knock down shots, it’s easier to win. That goes without saying. But even the threat of that shot means the defense has to pay attention. If that threat goes away, the defense focuses on keeping Beekman out of the paint. That’s basically the only offense this team has most of the time.
It honestly isn’t a whole lot different for the Hokies. Pedulla is the offense. He can shoot, which is a weapon Reece doesn’t have. But he also has a couple of shooters around him. Cattoor, of course. But UNC transfer Tyler Nickel is also shooting 38% on over 4 attempts per game.
At 6’7”, Nickel will probably be paired up with Ryan Dunn. Dunn’s ability on the defensive end is outstanding. He’s long, athletic, and disruptive. With the change to the lineup, Dunn is going to spend a lot more time as a perimeter defender.
At the beginning of this clip, Dunn is at least 10 feet away from his man. Dunn steps up to help on the drive, and can’t get back to his man. That shooter is Hunter Sallis, who was 8/13 for 21 points in that game. Too easy. This is part of the growing pains of this team.
The defense against Wake Forest wasn’t too bad. The offense badly let the team down, shooting under 30% from the field. Although the Deacons shot the ball very well, the Hoos were able to limit the damage by forcing turnovers and by limited second chances.
Turnovers have been a key component of this team’s success all season. Simply put, when they don’t force turnovers, they get blown out. In 11 wins, they are +74 in turnover margin. In five losses, they are +5. They need those extra possessions, because they just aren’t good enough offensively.
Even in the pre-Tony Bennett times, Virginia was pretty good at home. The season before Tony arrived, the Wahoos went 4-12 in the ACC, 3-5 at home. One of those wins came over the Hokies. Tony has lost twice to the Hokies at home in 14 seasons.
This season, the Hoos have just been a better team at home. Two ACC home games, and two laughers. I’m not sure this one will be quite that big a blowout. The Hokies are far better than Syracuse or Louisville. But this Virginia team isn’t as bad as they’ve looked, and we’ll see it back at JPJ.
Prediction: Wahoos 65, Hokies 55