After two tough road games, the Virginia Cavaliers return home for a nationally televised, big-time showdown against their in-state “rivals” in front of the ESPN College Gameday crowd. I use quotes there because the “rivalry” in basketball is only slightly less one-sided than it is in football. Sure the Hokies have won 14 straight in football, but the Hoos are 12-3 against the Hokies since 2011.
That record includes a 78-52 shellacking at Cassell Coliseum just over a month ago. The Hoos never trailed in that one, and had a double digit lead just 9 minutes in. A 12 point lead at halftime became a 20 point lead after another 9 minutes. It stretched all the way to 30 with about 5 minutes remaining and maxed at 33. Yeah, that’s a crush job.
The Hokies have been up and down since then. They beat UNC and they’ve won a few road games, but they also lost at home to both FSU and a Miami team without one of its double-digit scorers Bruce Brown. As before, this is an offensive team, ranking 23rd in the nation in 3-point shooting and fifth in shooting inside the arc. That makes them third in effective FG%. They don’t do a whole lot else well. They are just 69th in turnover rate, 52nd in FT rate, and 312th in offensive rebounding. But, if you’re going to do one thing well on a basketball court, making shots is a good one.
The Hokies are such a good offensive team because they have five guys who can all score. All five starters average in double-figures, with nobody over 13.8 (Justin Bibb), and none lower than 11.4 (Nickeil Alexander-Walker). All five of them shoot at least 39% from the three, although big-man Kerry Blackshear doesn’t venture out there much (14/30 on the year). They are led in FG attempts by junior Ahmed Hill, who shoots about 43% from outside. He’s also the team’s best slasher and finisher, but he shoots over 60% of his shots from downtown. Justin Bibb is actually the team’s best shooter, and he takes 50% of his shots from downtown (exactly 50%, 112 out of 224). Alexander-Walker, a highly touted freshman, takes about 52% of his shots from downtown at 39%. Surprisingly, for a team that shoots so well from outside, they aren’t any good from the FT line. Nobody on the team is over 77% and they shoot just 71% as a team (Virginia shoots 77% as a team).
Despite all those guys shooting all those treys, the team only takes about 39% of their shots from downtown, largely as a result of having two very good interior players in Blackshear and senior Chris Clarke. Clarke leads the team in rebounds, despite coming off the bench. Clarke is also second on the team in assists and is a capable interior scorer. Blackshear isn’t a back-to-the-basket scorer, but he’s a strong finisher on the interior and in transition.
PG Justin Robinson is the one guy I haven’t mentioned yet. He might actually be the best player on the team. He’s second in scoring, and leads the team in assists and steals. He scored 32 points Wednesday night against NC State. He’s also, far and away, the best perimeter defender on the team, but at 6’1” 190, he can be bullied by bigger guards. Don’t be surprised to see him guarding Kyle Guy, as Ty Jerome could just shoot over him. Clarke is also a good defender, but he doesn’t have the quickness to guard Virginia’s wings on the outside. He probably spends his time on Wilkins, and vice versa, although this may be a game where Wilkins doesn’t see that much time. Wilkins saw just 24 minutes in the first matchup, which is his 3rd lowest of the ACC schedule (14 against Duke and 21 against Clemson, both games in which he dealing with a back issue).
DeAndre Hunter had a big game in the first go-round, with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-9 from the field. Expect to see him as a big contributor again. Mamadi Diakite will also probably see extra run. His minutes have been trending up (15.4 over the past five games after averaging 8 the previous five games.). He played 11 minutes in the first matchup, and scored 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting. His quickness is a better matchup for Blackshear than Jack Salt, plus he has more size than Wilkins.
Transition is where this team excels. The first matchup was 68 possessions, which is tied for the most that Virginia has had in a game this season. The Hokies’ adjusted tempo is over 70 possessions per game. That is 54th in the nation. It is also slower than the Seminoles (58 possessions against Virginia), Duke (65 possessions) and UNC (59 possessions). In other words, don’t expect a 68 possession game again. Expect more like 60 possessions. In a game like that, the advantage is all Wahoos.