It will be the Cavaliers’ first game in a week after Wednesday’s matchup against North Carolina State was postponed due to a positive coronavirus test and subsequent contact tracing for the Wolfpack.
“We didn’t go into the Gonzaga game with the same anger,” said Virginia security guard Tomas Woldetensae of the 98-75 loss to the senior Bulldogs on December 26th. “We weren’t hungry to beat them to prove that we are as good as we are. I also believe that sometimes you have to lose to understand who you are and to win other games.”
Virginia not only holds number 1 in the ACC with 59.4 points per game, but is also first in the conference in percent (50.7) and second in percent (38.5) in consecutive games in which it was achieved 80 points. In the past season, the Cavaliers never scored more than 78 points. They are also number 10 nationwide for offensive efficiency and number 9 for defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Virginia is one of only three teams in the top 10 in both categories.
“I think their offense is so unique this year,” said Luke Hancock, a men’s basketball analyst for the ACC Network. “It’s more explosive and Tony Bennett realizes that while his defenses will be there and their numbers keep getting better, he realizes that it’s not the same defensive juggernaut that they had in the past. ”
The Cavaliers shot a total of 60.7 percent, 55.6 percent of which from three-point range, and overpowered an opponent who at the time was first on the defensive. Virginia underscored the extent of the throttling and tried only two free throws in a game that was up to 39 points.
Virginia had five players in the double digits for a second straight game, a first under Bennett.
The defense also showed up at Littlejohn Coliseum, limiting the Tigers to 5 for 23 (21.7 percent) on three pointers. It was Virginia’s best three-point defense of the season against a high major and his third game in a row with an opponent under 29 percent.
Bennett has managed to change the course of the season despite tinkering with a line-up that includes several new players, most notably Sam Hauser, a transfer from Marquette who was out last season. The 6-foot-8 striker leads the Cavaliers in scoring (13.8 points per game) and rebound (7.5 points per game).
Other players with significant roles who weren’t part of the team last season include Trey Murphy III, a transfer from Rice who was immediately approved by the NCAA the day before the season opened, and Reece Beekman, a high-profile freshman.
Beekman has been so stable this season that despite a lack of college-level experience, he’s started seven games.
“We have three people who didn’t play in a Virginia uniform for a game, so there are novelties that I think need to be identified,” said Bennett. “How hard we have to defend, how hard we have to play to beat good teams and that got even better after the Gonzaga game. True humble pie, right? “
The Cavaliers are the only school in the ACC without a conference loss, although there are still two games left against runner-up Virginia Tech (11-2, 5-1). The first of these games, originally scheduled for January 2nd, was postponed when the Cavaliers reported that an employee had tested positive.
Virginia also plays Florida State (8-2, 4-1), the reigning conference champion, on the street and Pittsburgh (8-2, 4-1) in Charlottesville. The Seminoles and Panthers take third place, one game behind Virginia.
“I’ll say Virginia is the team to beat,” said Hancock. “I think they look like the best team in the conference, but they’re not miles ahead. Florida State is right there. I think Virginia Tech is close. And I’m telling you this, Pittsburgh pounced on Duke. Those four teams are right there, but I’d say Virginia and Florida State are kind of pushing it. “