Who: Virginia Tech Hokies (17-7, 7-4 ACC) @ Virginia Cavaliers (12-13, 3-8 ACC)
When: Saturday, February 19 @ 1:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
The Opponent: The Hokies take their two-game winning streak to Charlottesville for a rematch with the Cavaliers Saturday afternoon. Tech lost to UVA back on December 5, 57-54, thanks primarily to a slow start. UVA led by as many as 16 in the first half before the Hokies came roaring back to get within two before falling by three.
Things are much different now, as Tech has won 13 of 16 since and the Wahoos have gone 7-10, including 2-8 in their last 10. UVA has had trouble scoring, failing to reach 50 points in three of those last 10, including a season-low 41 points against Duke on Wednesday.
Here’s a look at their projected starting lineup:
The Cavaliers have been ravaged by injuries to forwards Mike Scott and Will Sherrill. Scott was a beast in the first game against Tech, scoring 21 points and adding 13 boards. He’s now out for the season with an ankle injury. Sherrill didn’t play in the first game with a broken right fibula and has missed seven games this season as a result, including the last two.
As for the team that’s on the floor, the offense is just offensive. The Wahoos are last in the ACC in scoring (58.1) and free throw shooting (62%), and next to last in field goal percentage (40%) and rebounding margin (-5.1). The lone thing they do well is shoot the three ball. They currently lead the ACC by hitting 39% from deep. Then again, if you stop that, you stop their offense, as Duke did on Wednesday. Despite their offensive ineptitude, UVA possesses the third-best scoring defense in the ACC, giving up 64 ppg.
Recently, the Cavs have gone to a 4-guard lineup and really slowed the game down. Their season average of 61.8 ppg is down to 58.1 in conference play. Mustapha Farrakhan is the leading scoring threat, averaging just under 14 ppg in ACC games. Joe Harris is the only other legitimate scoring threat for the ‘Hoos, scoring a tad more than 11 ppg in conference. Harris is the main three-point threat for UVA, leading the team with 51 trey’s.
Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski round out the four-guard lineup. Evans is UVA’s point guard and leads the team in assists with 89 and steals with 37. Zeglinski has had some famous moments in this rivalry, including an improbable three-pointer at the buzzer to force OT in Charlottesville last year and getting flattened by multiple Jeff Allen screens in 2008.
Assane Sene is listed at 7’0”, but he doesn’t exactly play like it. Sene leads active UVA players (aka not Mike Scott) in rebounding, but grabs just 5.4 per game. The not-so-athletically-gifted Sene has just one career double-double, a 15-point, 13-rebound performance at Wake Forest this year, a game that Cavaliers lost. Yes, UVA lost to Wake.
UVA has a limited bench in KT Harrell (6-4, 204) and Akil Mitchell (6-8, 221). Harrell is a sharpshooter for the ‘Hoos, making 48% of his three’s in ACC play, but averages just 7.5 ppg. Mitchell provides an additional body for the undersized Cavaliers without really adding much on the offensive end.
Keys to VicTory:
- Get Inside
- With such a small lineup, it’s almost a given that Jeff Allen is going to have a big game. The Big Donut has recorded six straight double-doubles and there’s not much stopping him from his seventh straight. Allen is athletic enough to get past the 7-foot Sene and will have a distinct size advantage if guarded by anyone else. Expect a big game from both Allen and Victor Davila, who has molded into a finisher around the glass (never thought I would say that).
- Stop the Three
- UVA’s offense is centered around the three, and if they get hot early, it’ll be a bad sign for Tech. The ‘Hoos shot 56% from the field in the first half back in December, allowing them to slow the game down and really take the Hokies out of their rhythm. Tech has shown that it has the ability to score points recently, but falling behind against a team that wants the game in the 50’s is never a good thing. Coming out hot could end this one quickly.
- Keep the Momentum
- The Hokies are averaging 96.5 ppg in their last two ACC games. There is no way Tech will get that number unless the game goes to multiple overtimes, and, quite frankly, they won’t need to score that much to win the game. One would obviously be a fool to not look ahead at the Duke game next Saturday, but that game will mean nothing if Tech loses to UVA and/or Wake Forest on Tuesday. The Hokies need to keep the momentum they’ve been building as of late.
This game is more than just the normal rivalry for the Hokies. They have put themselves in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament, and can ill-afford to lose to UVA again and have a sweep at the hands of a team with an RPI around 150 on their resume. I’ll be in Charlottesville to witness the action first hand, and I hope to see a lot of maroon and orange at JPJ on Saturday.