That was far better from Virginia Basketball. The easy win is nice, but it also shows just how bad the previous game was. This team is better than that.
Winning on the road isn’t easy, especially in conference. Defense travels, and Tony Bennett’s teams are always sound defensively. But scoring consistently on the road is hard. So when they face a hot-shooting team like the Irish that night, and when they don’t make their shots, the Cavaliers can struggle.
The Pack are coming off a crazy win over the Irish in South Bend. The Irish led by double-digits with 10 minutes to go and NC State roared back to win on this buzzer beater.
DJ BURNS FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/VK9BN0i8EZ— NC State Men's Basketball (@PackMensBball) January 4, 2024
Game Time: Monday, December 18, 7PM Eastern
Three Players To Watch
You already saw him above, scoring the winning bucket against the Irish. A decent amount of NC State’s offense is dumping the ball into Burns in the post and asking him to score. He’s also a capable face up shooter and a decent passer.
This is a nice pick-n-pop action with Burns and the next guy in this list.
Yes, their two best players are both DJ and yes, that is confusing. Horne is a grad transfer from Arizona State (and Illinois State) who is a career 38% shooter from downtown. He’s made 44% this year. Well over half his shots have come from downtown. Considering he’s shooting barely 40% on twos, that’s probably a good thing.
Horne is their leading scorer due to his shooting. He struggled against Notre Dame, with 8 points on 3-14 shooting. With Reece on him, hopefully he remains cold.
He doesn’t need much space. But he wants to shoot, he doesn’t want to drive. So don’t give him space.
Yes, our old friend is still around. Casey is in his 3rd year at NC State and 5th overall. He’s settled in as a solid contributor for the Pack. He’s made 35% from downtown this year, after shooting 41% last year. And he’s still a solid defender.
Morsell was the best player on the court in NC State’s loss to BYU in Las Vegas. He had 28 points on 10-17 shooting.
Two Key Matchups
The defensive glass
This is a running theme this year, as Virginia just has very little size or frontcourt depth.
Although NC State aren’t a great offensive rebounding team, they are capable. At 6’9” 275, Burns is definitely capable. He doesn’t get many offensive rebounds these days because he takes so many of their shots. But he’s had very strong offensive rebound numbers in the past.
Freshman Dennis Parker has started the past five games. He’s 6’6” 205, and nominally is the PF. That means he’s matched up with Ryan Dunn. Parker has had multiple offensive rebounds in 4 of those five games. Dunn needs to keep Parker off the offensive glass, and also needs to keep putting up points. He’s scored 28 points over the past two games on 13-17 shooting. That type of efficiency is huge for this team.
Against an undermanned Louisville squad, the Hoos had just 3 turnovers. They only forced 8, but hanging on to the ball meant more opportunities. Louisville had 47 FGA, Virginia had 58 FGA. That’s a big advantage (Louisville had 3 more FTA.)
Against Notre Dame, the Hoos turned the ball over 11 times. Maybe it didn’t matter since Notre Dame shot lights out and the Hoos couldn’t didn’t hit anything, but the turnovers didn’t help.
NC State don’t turn the ball over much, and they want to force turnovers. They will press, they will trap, and Virginia needs to turn those traps into easy points. Virginia has thrived on the extra possessions that the turnovers create, and the easy buckets which often come off live-ball turnovers. Losing the turnover battle means losing the possessions battle. And Virginia isn’t good enough offensively to overcome that.
This team has not looked good away from JPJ this season. Other than the Florida game, there isn’t a good away result. We know what this team is capable of, but the consistency isn’t there yet.
On paper at least, this NC State is a very tough matchup for the Hoos. Who on this team can stop Burns inside? And State can turn up the pressure and play full court. Virginia has shown they can struggle against a press, especially since Donte Harris went down.
Maybe the Notre Dame game was an aberration. They played 3 games in 3 weeks. It’s hard to stay in game shape. Maybe we’ll see them closer to their ceiling than their floor. But until we see it, it is hard to predict it.
Prediction: Wolfpack 67, Wahoos 59