The Virginia men’s basketball team needs to win a road game.
The Cavaliers have lost all four of their road games this year, scoring an average of just 54 points per game in those contests, while surrendering 74 points on average (-20 total point differential).
Georgia Tech sits at just 2-4 in ACC play (9-8 overall), but they’re coming off a signature road win at Clemson in Double OT. Prior to Tuesday’s win, the Yellow Jackets were on a five game losing streak.
Their first year with new head coach Damon Stoudamire didn’t project to be anything special, but this Georgia Tech team won’t go down without a fight as they’ve proven through marquee wins against Duke and Mississippi St, alongside their comeback victory over Clemson.
Can the Cavaliers secure their first road win in the 2023-24 campaign? If they defend like they did against Virginia Tech and shoot efficiently, Bennett’s team handle business against a Georgia Tech squad with many new faces.
Game Time: Saturday, January 20, 6PM Eastern
Three Players to Watch
The Yellow Jackets only returning player in their starting lineup leads the team in scoring for consecutive seasons. The 6’6 junior wing isn’t afraid to let it fly, no matter how well he’s shooting in the game.
This fast break catch-and-shoot three from 27 feet out captures the essence of Kelly’s game. He scored 20 points off the bench in the first game against Virginia last year, while only scoring 2 points in just five minutes of playing time in the second one.
Despite scoring a career high 15.5 points per game, Kelly’s efficiency numbers have dipped significantly: from 41.0% from the field last season to 35.8% this year, and a massive drop in three point percentage, 37.9% last season to 28.0% this year.
That being said, the athletic wing can catch fire at any point, pouring in 20-plus points through a barrage of threes and finishes at the rim.
Kelly has a lengthy NBA frame, with potential as a 3 and D prospect, so he’ll be a handful for the ‘Hoos to defend on Saturday.
The 6’9 Senegalese freshman forward has wowed Georgia Tech fans in his first 14 games. He’s averaging near a double-double— 12.7 points and 8.9 rebounds— while shooting 60% from the floor.
It’s safe to say Ndongo’s got some Ryan Dunn in him, bringing down thunderous jams like the one above against Duke. His long wing-span and athletic burst make him a weapon in the paint on both ends.
Ndongo operates well as the roll-man in pick-and-rolls, with the ability to hit turn arounds and finish through contact at the rim. The ‘Hoos will need to prevent him from getting easy, explosive dunks that could get the Georgia Tech crowd going and shift the game’s momentum.
The junior transfer out of Florida has provided excellent three-point and free throw shooting for a team that’s awful in both of those categories. He’s hit 31 threes this year on 74 attempts (41.9%) and he’s 82.5% from the stripe. But that doesn’t mean he can’t throw it down too...
My goodness what a dunk!!! Sorry not sorry for all the clips against Duke.
Similar to Miles Kelly, Reeves is a long, 6’6 wing who can hit threes off the catch and dribble, catching fire at any given point. Reeves has supported Kelly as an additional guy who can create his own shot, forcing defenses to key in on both players while the point guard Nathan George runs the offense.
Two Key Matchups
The Offensive Glass
Georgia Tech will miss a lot of their first looks. They shoot just 43.1% from the field and 31.9% from three, although it’s worth noting they’ve improved those numbers a lot in ACC play.
Regardless, the difference in the game will be whether or not Virginia limits Georgia Tech’s second chance opportunities. The long, athletic Yellow Jackets team crashes the offensive glass effectively. Virginia’s struggled to consistently secure defensive rebounds, but the Jordan Minor coming out party may be the answer to their rebounding woes.
Minor’s physicality and ability to actually box out help him hold his own against taller five-men on the boards. If Minor, Dunn, Buchanan, and company can keep Ndongo and the Yellow Jackets from getting second looks, than the ‘Hoos defense should find success.
After a scorching start to the season from three-point range, the Cavaliers have cooled off in ACC play. Virginia averages 26.8% from three in their five losses. Their shooting hasn’t traveled outside of JPJ.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s hit 37 threes in their last 3 games, proving that they can stay in any game by stringing together three-pointers. Virginia will need to close out on shooters, and rotate crisply to prevent skip passes or quick swings leading to open thee-pointers.
Virginia’s best three-point shooter Isaac McKneely’s had a quiet couple of games. If there was ever a time for him to break-out of his mini slump, it would be in a pivotal road game that the ‘Hoos need in order to get back on track. The Yellow Jackets will likely face-guard McKneely all game, preventing him from getting many clean looks within the offense. Bennett will need to draw up some actions to get McKneely open early in the game, so that he doesn’t feel the need to force heavily-contested jumpers when the offense struggles.
I remember a time when Virginia handled business against lesser opponents on the road. We have yet to see it happen this year, but Virginia’s at a point where they can’t afford losses to teams like Georgia Tech if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive.
That being said, I think the Virginia Tech win was a get-right game for the ‘Hoos. The emergence of Jordan Minor has brought new life to a previously lifeless squad, and Dante Harris’ return will help immensely on defense, while adding another shot-creator on offense.
With these things in mind, I truly believe Virginia gets it done on the road for the first time this season, breaking this spell and getting back to above .500 in the ACC.
Prediction: Virginia 69, Georgia Tech 60