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The Big Preview: Virginia looks to end skid at Georgia Tech

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off three straight losses, it’s been years since the Virginia Cavaliers found themselves in this position—anything other than near the top of the conference. But with a very real shot at winning each of those three games, the Hoos are still well within reach of the NCAA Tournament if they can figure out a way for their shooters to heat up and finish down the stretch.

The good news is, the Hoos aren’t facing a team nearly as good as FSU in this game. The bad news is, they’re still on the road, where they’ve only been 1-3 on the year so far. Lucky for Virginia, they looked pretty good last Tuesday on the road in Tallahassee, and Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly have much of a home court advantage with a 5-3 home record so far and having lost each of their last two home games.

What the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets do have going for them, though, is experience, with almost the entire rotation having at least two seasons of college basketball experience. Two of those guys are transfers. And those without experience? Well, their leading scorer Michael Devoe is actually just a sophomore.

Luckily, Devoe is really the only shooter the Jackets have. He’s not taking enough outside shots, but that’s his big strength as he’s going over 40% from deep, with a pretty sweet pull-up like the one below against No. 2 Duke in transition.

He’s 6’5” 194, which means he’ll see a combination of Kody Stattmann and Tomas Woldetensae mostly guarding him. Woldetensae has been coming off the bench behind Stattmann and Casey Morsell, but his minutes are trending up after a few games without much run. He’s been the only guy consistently making outside shots, and Virginia needs that right now. Against FSU, the Italian wing was 3-4 from downtown and the rest of the team was 0-12.

As a team, the Virginia offense right now ranks 240th in the nation. Luckily, the Yellow Jackets aren’t a whole lot better than that (193rd). The key player to watch here on the Yellow Jackets’ offense is junior PG Jose Alvarado who, among the starters, is really the only above-average offensive player. He shouldn’t be much of a threat from the three-point line, shooting just 31%, but he’s an outstanding playmaker and knocks down his free throws (87%).

The Alvarado - Kihei Clark matchup will be key on both ends of the court. Virginia can’t withstand another game with Clark giving up 9 (!) turnovers as he did against Florida State — the offense just isn’t near good enough to withstand that many. A more controlled game from Clark very likely ends in a big win for his team.

In the half court, the Jackets run a lot of screen n’ roll with Alvarado and one his bigs.

It is comical how badly UNC’s big gets lost on this play. Alvarado literally has him running in circles. The Hoos will defend that better and will make it tough for the Jackets in the half court, although GT likes to get out and run.

The Jackets’ offense isn’t very good, but on the other end, the defense is quite good. While they don’t use a full-court defense, they use a very tight, very controlled man-to-man defense on the perimeter. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, but they do block a lot of shots. While they don’t foul much, they also struggle on the defensive glass. Early in the season, we saw Virginia hitting the offensive glass a bit, but that hasn’t happened as much of late. With Alvarado’s ability to push the ball, chances are Tony will not want to give up transition opportunities in return for a few offensive rebounding chances.

In the front court, the Jackets have Moses Wright and James Banks. They are similar players, in that they block a bunch of shots, run the floor well and dunk a lot. Neither does a whole lot in between that.

That’s Banks, the lone senior in the rotation. Notice how he begins the play with a steal and outlet, and ends it with the big dunk. Run the floor and you shall be rewarded.

That’s Wright. He doesn’t start the fast break, but he certainly finishes it.

With those two guys down low, Kihei Clark needs to cut his drives short. He has the little pull-up mid-range runner in his arsenal—this one from last year.

That Oregon team was long and had shot blockers. So Clark pulls up and drains a 12 footer. He needs to do that a few times a game.

This is a good matchup for the Hoos. The two teams are both struggling to consistently score in the half court. GT has found ways to score in transition more often than Virginia, but the Hoos are, of course, better defensively and on the glass. If Virginia can avoid the turnovers that will allow the Jackets to get out and run, they have a very good chance to win. Hitting a couple of threes would help.