Date: Saturday, January 29
TV: The ACC Network
Coming off of a much-needed win on Wednesday, No. 20 Virginia Tech (12-3, 6-2) welcomes No. 8 Virginia (11-2, 7-0) to Blacksburg for not just a rivalry matchup, but one of the most important games of the ACC season to date.
Both programs are in the top-three in the conference as they approach the midway point of the season. This game could be extremely important when it comes to seeding for the ACC Tournament in March.
The Hokies and Cavaliers were scheduled to play on January 2, but that game had to be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns in the Virginia program. However, since then, UVA has been unstoppable, winning seven straight games in the conference by an average margin of over 13 points.
Virginia looked to be overhyped early in the season after being upset by San Francisco in Bubbleville and then being blasted by No. 1 Gonzaga just after Christmas. The Cavaliers haven’t lost in over a month, but it hasn’t been due to the usual dominance of the packline defense.
Surprisingly, UVA has been explosive offensively since the calendar turned. The Cavaliers have scored 80 or more points in three of their last four games. Virginia didn’t score 80 points in any game a year ago.
The improvement has been astronomical for the Cavaliers according to KenPom. Virginia was the 234th-ranked team in adjusted offensive efficiency during the 19-20 season. This year, they are up to 10th in the country, which is higher than their usual dominant defense.
This success can be attributed to the work of an established trio on the offensive end. Kihei Clark, Sam Hauser and Jay Huff have been nearly unstoppable over the last few weeks.
Clark, the junior point guard, was just named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watchlist, but he can also get it done offensively. Up until a four-point game in the Cavs’ win over Syracuse on Monday, he had scored in double-digits in five consecutive games.
Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is the pure scorer of the group. He leads the Cavaliers with 15 points per game, scoring in double-digits in each game this season. Hauser had his best game against Syracuse with 21 points, all coming off of seven three-pointers.
Then, there’s dynamic center Jay Huff who has always had a defensive prowess. He is second in the ACC with 32 blocks. However, his offensive efficiency has been on full display this season; he is second on the team with 13.8 points per game, and he is shooting over 45% from beyond the arc despite standing at seven-foot-one.
Tech’s defense will be tested, especially with Tyrece Radford missing once again due to his suspension. Radford was usually tasked with guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player. Now, the Hokies will have to find a way to stop the Cavaliers without him.
One thing is consistent this year with the Cavaliers…they still play very slow. They’re averaging just over 60 possessions per game, which is by far the lowest in the entire country.
The Hokies will need another good performance from their frontcourt in Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts. The two transfer bigs each had a double-double in Wednesday’s win over Notre Dame and seemed to put some the offensive struggles of the previous week behind them.
Jalen Cone will also play a big role for Tech if he can finally figure out his issues from beyond the arc. Cone is just 2-of-17 from long range over the last three games after hitting 26 shots from deep in the previous six games. His shooting often provides the spark the Hokies need to get a win and against the Cavs, they’ll need him to knock a few down.
Tech has lost four straight to the Cavaliers since beating UVA back in February of 2018. The closest the Hokies have come since then was last year when they stormed back after scoring just 11 points in the first half to tie the game in the final minute. However, Kihei Clark hit a dagger three-pointer just seconds later to win the game.
The Hokies could use a huge win to jumpstart the season again after the tumultuous events of last weekend. A win would get Tech to seven conference wins, matching the total from Mike Young’s first year with the program.