Date, Time and TV: Wednesday, February 26, 7pm, ESPN2
Virginia Tech (15-12, 6-10) will host in-state rival UVA (19-7, 11-5) tonight in Cassell Coliseum at 7pm. The Hokies will be looking to avenge a 65-39 loss in Charlottesville back on January 4. In that game the Hokies hung in there defensively early in the game, but couldn’t score, and eventually the wheels fell off. Mike Young’s team will be looking to get off to a better start offensively in the rematch.
That’s easier said that done because of UVA’s dominance on the defensive end. Tony Bennett’s pack line defense is one of the best in the country year-in and year-out. Deprived of so much offensive talent that departed following last year’s National Championship run, the Hoos are once again back to winning tough, low-scoring, grind-it-out games.
Here’s where UVA ranks in the key defensive categories…
Adjusted Def. Efficiency: No. 4
Effective FG%: No. 4
3-Pt.%: No. 16
UVA’s tempo ranks No. 353 out of 353 teams. They slow the pace down and frustrate opposing teams.
“When the score is 20-12, and you are just like, ‘Dang it’,” Wabissa Bede said on Tuesday. “They play a lot of mind games, but we have to play at our pace and not fall for their tricks.”
Teams that are able to beat the Cavaliers are teams that hang in there mentally and don’t get frustrated. Four of the seven teams to beat them this season have failed to crack 65 points, so a huge offensive night isn’t necessary.
60-53 L at Boston College
63-55 OT L vs. Syracuse
54-50 L at Florida State
53-51 L vs. NC State
Those four losses came in a five-game span back in January. Since then, the Hoos are 7-1 with their only loss coming on the road to a very good Louisville team.
Where UVA is most different this year is on the offensive end. Check out their offensive numbers from last year’s National Championship team…
Adjusted Off. Efficiency: No. 2
Effective FG%: No. 19
Turnover Rate: No. 12
3-Pt.%: No. 8
2-Pt.%: No. 75
Last year UVA ranked higher in adjusted offensive efficiency than adjusted defensive efficiency (No. 5). However, the loss of key personnel in De’Andre Hunter (first round), Ty Jerome (first round) and Kyle Guy (second round) has doomed the Hoos to a season of bad offensive basketball. Here’s where they rank on the offensive end this year…
Adjusted Off. Efficiency: No. 216
Effective FG%: No. 279
Turnover Rate: No. 255
3-Pt.%: No. 306
2-Pt.%: No. 224
UVA simply doesn’t possess the offensive talent that they had a year ago, and they’ve compounded the matter by turning the ball over way too much. Their turnovers probably frustrate Tony Bennett more than anything.
It wasn’t Virginia Tech’s 39-point performance in the first meeting that was disappointing, as the pack line defense is tough on any rotation that features six freshmen.
“It was definitely a blow in the face for the first time,” freshman guard Jalen Cone said. “They were big and could guard the ball very well. It was shocking for all of the freshmen, and it was a new experience for all of us. It was a learning experience, so this time we will handle ourselves better in that situation.”
The disappointing part of the first meeting was the fact that they allowed the Hoos to score 65 points. At that point in the season, UVA had only reached that mark twice when they scored exactly 65 against JMU and Navy, and they didn’t do it again in regulation until February 8 in the 80-73 loss to Louisville. They also scored 65 in an overtime victory over Wake Forest.
If the Hokies want to have a chance of pulling the upset on Wednesday night, they have to stay mentally engaged on the defensive end when they are struggling offensively. They have to make this a game in the low 50s. They will have major scoring droughts against the pack line, as most teams do, but they have to make sure they stay focused on the defensive end during those droughts.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on…
F Mamadi Diakie (6-9, 224, r-Sr.): 13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg. Diakite is UVA’s most talented player, and he could be selected in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft.
G Kihei Clark (5-9, 163, So.): 10.8 ppg, 157 assists. Clark has struggled with turnovers at times (92 on the year). Tech had a bad defensive performance against him in the first meeting. Normally a 37.7% shooter from the field, Clarke had 18 points and was 5-of-9 from the field against the Hokies. He got to the basket much too easily.
G/F Braxton Key (6-8, 230, Sr.): 10 ppg, 7.2 rpg. Key is undefeated in his career against Virginia Tech, having also beat the Hokies in the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh when he played for Alabama.