Spread: Virginia -4.5
5:00pm Central – Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, VA
#8 Virginia Cavaliers (11-2, 7-0)
The ‘Hoos will look to make it eight straight—all in-conference—with a win tonight on the road against their in-state rivals in Blacksburg. UVA is sitting in the driver’s seat in the ACC now as the only unbeaten team left in conference play, and they have a 1.0 game lead over second-place FSU and a 1.5 game lead (two in the loss column) over these Hokies.
Virginia enters tonight’s contest having beaten Syracuse by 23 in their last game at home this past Monday. UVA dropped 81 points on the Orange in the win, continuing their red-hot shooting from beyond the arc of late to easily overwhelm Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. In the Cavaliers’ last four games, they’ve shot an incredible 49-100 from three, with their worst output over that stretch coming against Georgia Tech, when they were only 8-18 (44.4%). That stretch of dominant outside shooting has propelled Virginia to the 10th best offense in the country, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, and the ‘Hoos are approaching 40% from deep on the season as a team, as they’re now up to 39.6% in 3PT FG%, good for 10th in the country in that stat. Senior wing and leading scorer and rebounder Sam Hauser (15.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 43.2% 3PT FG%) has been a major factor in the team’s recent success from downtown. The Marquette transfer has gone 15-23 (65.2%) from three over the last three games, including back-to-back 4-5 performances against Clemson and Georgia Tech.
In addition to hot shooting from downtown, UVA is one of the nation’s best free throw shooting teams (80.5%, 4th in the country) and they do an excellent job of not turning the ball over, as only 13.9% of their possessions end in a turnover (5th best in the country). On defense, Head Coach Tony Bennett’s famous pack line defense forces opponents to take deep shots in order to shoot over the top of the defense. By nature, the pack line defense is more conservative. On the plus side, that means the ‘Hoos are rarely in foul trouble and frequently don’t even put teams in the bonus in a given half. On the other hand, the ‘Hoos are 318th in the nation in forced turnover rate. But, while UVA doesn’t force many turnovers, they do a great job of limiting opposing teams to just one possession each trip down the floor, as they’re ranked 7th in the country in defensive rebounding rate. UVA also plays at the slowest pace in the country, so they’re effectively forcing opponents to have career days from beyond the arc if they’re going to defeat the ‘Hoos. So far, this formula for success has worked perfectly in the ACC.
#20 Virginia Tech Hokies (12-3, 6-2)
Virginia Tech is reeling from the loss of second leading scorer and sophomore guard Tyrece Radford (11.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 53.7% FG%), who has been suspended indefinitely from the team following an arrest for DUI and carrying a concealed weapon. Radford was putting together a special season in which he was shooting north of 60% on attempts from inside the arc, and now the Hokies will be tasked with replacing his production, which won’t be an easy thing to do. In the lone game the Hokies have played since Radford was suspended—a 62-51 road win over Notre Dame earlier this week—Head Coach Mike Young elevated sophomore guard Jalen Cone (10.3 PPG, 35.6% 3PT FG%) to the starting rotation in Radford’s place. Cone had been the team’s sixth man up until that point, and he was likely in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year Award in the ACC. Now, as the team’s leader in three-pointers attempted, Cone will take on a much bigger role on the team. Fellow sophomore guard Hunter Cattoor (8.3 PPG, 47.2% 3PT FG%) should also see a bump in minutes. Cattoor is a three-point specialist who has taken more than twice as many 3’s as 2’s so far this season, and he’ll now fill the sixth man role in place of Cone until Radford is able to return to the team. Junior forward Keve Aluma leads the team in scoring and rebounding (13.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG), and he’ll need to outproduce that scoring average with Radford out to give the Hokies a chance against UVA, even with the limited number of possessions we can expect tonight.
The Hokies rely more on their defense to get the job done, as they’re ranked 34th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, compared to 58th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Virginia Tech, much like UVA, does a great job of limiting teams to just one shot attempt, as they’re ranked 43rd in the country in defensive rebound rate. Also much like Virginia, VT struggles to force turnovers on defense. We could be in for a game with fewer than 20 turnovers total.
Virginia Tech is going to sorely miss Radford’s presence in tonight’s game, as his ability to break down the defense and get to the rack is critical for the Hokies’ offense. While the ‘Hoos shouldn’t be expected to shoot 50% from deep every time they take the floor, I think they hold a clear edge over Virginia Tech offensively in what should be a slow game without many turnovers or second chances on offense. Virginia Tech is going to have to shoot lights out to keep up with UVA, and they won’t be able to rely on volume to help close the talent gap on offense. I just don’t see the Hokies getting as many open looks from three without Radford’s slashing presence there to create opportunities for others. Barring Virginia Tech going bananas from three, UVA should win this game comfortably. Even if it’s a fairly close game down the stretch, Virginia’s 80.5% shooting from the line should help them cover. Take UVA -4.5 (-110).
Mac is 14-12 on the season. All picks are one unit. A $100 bettor has a profit of $72.