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The BIG PREVIEW: Virginia Basketball hosts George Washington

NCAA Basketball: Towson at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the second game in a row, Virginia Cavaliers basketball faces a team that is almost entirely rebuilt from last year’s team. The George Washington Colonials lost their top three scorers from last year and four of the top six. They had only finished 196th in the country in offensive efficiency, so perhaps the impact will not be as dramatically felt as it otherwise could be.

Among the losses was Jair Bolden, who transferred to South Carolina after being the second-leading scorer and leading GW in assists last season. Then again, he was shooting under 37% from the field, and there’s really no way you can be an asset to your team shooting that poorly, especially with a usage rate of 22%. So again, maybe it’s not a dramatic loss.

Still, the Colonials are 0-2 already, with a couple of home losses to low-major teams. On Tuesday against Stony Brook, GW scored the first 22 points of the game…and managed to lose. That’s not easy to do. They made just 16-of-34 from the FT line and allowed Stony Brook to grab 40% of their own misses. That’s how you blow a big lead.

Then on Thursday, GW lost at home to the Siena Saints. Again, they allowed offensive boards on 40% of misses, and struggled from the charity stripe (7/13). This time, though, they at least shot the ball well from outside, making 8-of-18 from 3-point land. There was no 22-0 start in this one, as Siena took over late in the first half and never trailed again.

Virginia, as you probably know, is coming off a blowout win over Towson. Virginia also struggled with rebounds and FT shooting. The Cavaliers allowed 12 offensive boards (33%) and shot just 11-of-18 from the stripe (61%). It is imperative that both of things get better before the competition improves.

GW ranked 301st last year in 3-point shooting, at just 32%. In the opener, they shot 6-of-20, at home no less. As mentioned, the shooting was better on Thursday, but they still aren’t a strong outside shooting team. You simply aren’t going to beat the Pack Line without making some outside shots. GW certainly has some guys who will fire it up from outside, but they aren’t truly shooters.

Despite a large roster overhaul, this isn’t really a young team. On the inside, they’re led by 6’8” 250 lb junior Arnaldo Toro. He can shoot it a little bit, but he’s also strong on the interior and on the glass. He has a tendency to get frustrated if he can’t get things going inside, so he’ll move outside and start jacking up jumpers. He’s under 25% for his career from behind the arc, taking around one per game. Toro shot 77% from the FT line last year but is just 2-of-8 so far this year.

In the frontcourt with Toro, the Colonials have Illinois transfer D.J. Williams, a 6’7” 215 pounder who can score both off the bounce and with a jumper. He was a top-100 recruit but didn’t play much for the Illini. He’s also a solid defender, but simply plays too weak to have a big impact. He didn’t play in the opener, and I don’t know why. In his stead was freshman Mezie Offurum. Offurum is similar, though he’s more willing to bang inside and works the glass well. He saw only seven minutes against Siena after leading the team with 40 minutes played in the opener.

Other than Toro, this is a perimeter heavy team. They start three guards and almost always have three on the floor. Sophomore guard Terry Nolan is the top returning scorer, and he shot just 31% from three. He is 6-of-14 so far this year. Figure on him matching up with Kyle Guy most of the game. Charleston Southern transfer Armel Potter is the PG and had a game high 21 points in the opener. He was 0-of-3 from downtown, but is 9-of-18 so far on 2s and finds a way to get to the stripe. In two years at CSU, he shot about 32% from three on over 200 attempts. He’ll take the shot. But that doesn’t make him a shooter. He’ll match up with Jerome, whose length will bother the 6’1” PG. That leaves Hunter on 6’3” wing Justin Mazzulla. Mazzulla is a physical player and he’s shown improvement in his shooting early this year. He’s just too small for Hunter, who could have a big game.

Considering the success Tony had with his small-ball lineups against Towson, figure on seeing a lot more of that. Braxton Key was the fifth starter on Tuesday and there’s no reason for that to change. He’s too strong for D.J. Williams to contain. Similarly, Jack Salt is a tough matchup for Toro inside, who is used to have a strength advantage. Toro isn’t the quick leaper that Towson’s Dennis Tunstall was. Tunstall had 5 offensive rebounds, though Salt wasn’t in the game for all of them. Keeping Toro off the glass will make it very difficult for GW to score points.

The three GW guards are 6’1”, 6’2” and 6’3”. How are they going to match up with 6’7” DeAndre Hunter or 6’5” Ty Jerome? And Williams against Key is also a mismatch in favor of the Hoos. And a team with nobody taller than 6’9” isn’t going to be able to stop 7-foot Jay Huff.

GW has had some very strong basketball teams over the years. When this game was scheduled, it seemed like a good early season test for Virginia. That hasn’t worked out. The Colonials might be worse than Towson and this game could get ugly. Pack Line Pledgers, get your checkbooks ready.