Apologies in advance, but this preview is not going to be quite as big as "The Big Preview" usually is. I am under the weather, as is my infant daughter. Time simply does not permit the research that normally accompanies these previews.
The Canes are ranked #8 (or #9) in the current poll, ahead of the Hoos at 13 (or 11). The Canes are sitting at 2-0 in the conference, with home win over Syracuse and FSU. They've also beaten solid Butler and Utah teams on a neutral floor. They've lost just once, at home to Northeastern. So, though their record is better than the Hoos, and their ranking is higher, they do not have the same level of quality wins that the Hoos have. Still, 13-1 is better than 12-3.
The Hoos, as we all know, at struggling right now. They've lost 2 in a row, both in conference, and neither to one of the elite teams in the ACC. We won't rehash those, because that would be depressing.
The Canes are basically the same team they were last year, as just 1 newcomer is seeing any real minutes. They are led on the court by senior PG Angel Rodriguez, though he's basically been in a shooting slump for 2 years now. For some reason, he still gets tons of respect, but he's now at just 31% shooting from behind the arc (and under 40% overall) for his career, which began at Oklahoma State. Rodriguez does lead the team in assists at just under 4 per game.
Though Rodriguez dominates the ball, the team is actually led by sophomore guard Ja'Quan Newton and senior wing Sheldon McClellan. McClellan, like Rodriguez began his career in the Big 12, at Texas. McClellan leads the team in scoring at just over 16 per game. McClellan is a 41% 3-point shooter, and is nearly 90% from the stripe. He's been one of the best scorers in the nation this year, though he doesn't get the ball quite as often as he should.
Both Rodriguez and Newton probably shoot more than they should. Newton is about 35% from 3, and also has a strong game around the rim. But he's not nearly as good at getting to the line as McClellan. Newton is also a very good passer.
Newton doesn't actually start, though he uses up more possessions than anybody else on the team, including Rodriguez. Junior Davon Reed starts. He's bigger than Newton, not nearly as quick. But he's also about a 35% shooter from outside, and he's very good at getting to the line.
On the interior, the Canes have a trio of talented big men. They are led by senior 7 footer Tonye Jekiri. Jekiri leads the team with about 9.5 rebounds per game. He's basically putting up the same numbers he did a year ago, when he averaged 9 and 9 with 1.5 blocks. Next to him are senior Ivan Cruz Uceda and junior Kamari Murphy. Murphy starts, but they roughly split minutes. Uceda is a shooter, who is making 50% of his 3s. Murphy is more of an interior player, and a much better defender than Uceda.
The Canes are a very good offensive team. They are a solid defensive team, but their numbers defensively are inflated. Teams simply haven't been shooting the ball very well against them. For example, their opponents are shooting just 65% from the FT line against them. They are a man-to-man team, and the Hoos aren't likely to shoot poorly at home.
The problem for the Hoos, surprisingly enough, has been on the defensive end. Though they rank 5th in the nation in offensive efficiency (according to Kenpom.com), they have dropped to 36th in defensive efficiency. A fair amount of that is teams shooting, as opposing teams are shooting over 35% from 3 against them. The Canes are mostly a perimeter team with shooters all over the place, and though they have a few talented interior players, only Jekiri is much of threat on the offensive glass.
Unless the Canes shoot lights out from downtown, the Hoos should be able to get their act together and get back to winning basketball games. They'd better, because this weekend, the Hoos head back on the road to face FSU.
Tipoff is Tuesday, January 12 at 7:00 p.m. in Charlottesville. The game will be televised on ESPNU.