Despite sitting with 20 wins to only one loss, ranked No. 3 in the polls, and finally getting the respect it deserves nationally, Virginia still fails to garner the publicity of college basketball’s blue bloods. Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense and has the fifth ranked offense in terms of points-per-possession, a combination which has led UVA to be widely considered as the top challenger to UK for this year’s national title. Yet, teams like Duke and North Carolina continue to garner more headlines relative to actual on court performance.
Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC), despite welcoming a very good No. 9 Louisville team (19-3, 7-2 ACC), is still seen as a participant in the undercard to the ACC’s main weekend event, Notre Dame’s rematch trip to Duke. As long as the Cavaliers keep winning, I’m sure none of that matters to Tony Bennett. And given how they match up with the Cards, Tony Bennett could be feeling even better by Sunday morning.
Virginia’s famed Pack-line defense is designed to force difficult outside shots. Louisville has considerable trouble making open shots on the perimeter. Virginia is excellent at preventing production from the post, limiting Jahlil Okafor to a season-low 10 points and a season-high five turnovers. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, while showing up big against North Carolina, has widely struggled against the top teams Louisville has faced this year. As will be the case in the NCAA tournament, Louisville’s chances of success against Virginia, and really any other top team, are going to come down to whether Terry Rozier and Chris Jones can make those tough outside shots that separate good teams from great teams. Both Rozier and Jones are talented enough to hit the shots they need to, but haven’t been consistent enough with their respective strokes from the outside.
For Virginia, its unheralded band of stars will have the displeasure of going up against one of America’s most difficult defenses. While Louisville’s pressure has certainly gotten the better of most opponenents this year, Virginia has a chance to come out of this contest unscathed due to its balanced and efficient offense. The Cavaliers’ top scorer, Justin Anderson, averages just 13.9 points per game, good for 15th in the ACC; but he’s been knocking down threes as a 50% clip this year on 4.4 attempts per game. Virginia’s top three scorers all average upwards of 1.3 points-per-FGA. Even if the Cardinals do manage to turn the Hoos over a few times, Virginia tends to make the most of its field goal attempts, anyway.
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