Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Virginia Cavaliers
SCOUTING THE CAVALIERS
UVA’s 49-37 win over Wisconsin conjured up images of the limping offense of the past couple of seasons, but outside of that result the Cavaliers have been scoring appreciably well. Averaging 70 points per contest, they are making a very efficient 49.2 % of their field goal tries, including 37.3% from distance. That works out to an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, which is 55th nationally. While that isn’t eye-popping, it’s a huge improvement over past seasons. They also capitalize on their trips to the foul line, hitting almost 79% as a team. The starting five is a combined 60-72 on free throws.
The Wahoos are guard-centric, with senior Devon Hall (6-5, 210 lbs.) and sophomore Kyle Guy (6-2, 175 lbs.) leading the scoring pace at 11.8 and 16.6 points respectively. They also key the ball movement in Virginia’s offense, which is a huge part of head coach Tony Bennett’s system. They are two of the “movers” in the “mover-blocker offense”, where perimeter shooters continually look for screens from bigger players, then run off them, reset and run off them again until they find room to shoot.
Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins (6-7, 225 lbs.) can assume both roles, as he is averaging 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. Sophomore guard Ty Jerome (6-5, 200 lbs.) leads a group of excellent passes with 21 assists, but he is just one of just six Cavaliers with at least ten of those to date.
Defensively, UVA’s pack line defense cuts off the potential for drives, and dares opponents to hoist 3-pointers or be very patient in trying to break down the gap-oriented, off-the-ball techniques utilized by the four defenders who aren’t on the ball. Foes are making just 36% of their field goal tries, and 27.6% of their threes, and none have been able to mount a serious threat to the Cavs so far. Granted, the strength of the opposition hasn’t been the greatest, but Virginia is, in Bob Huggins’ parlance, “doing what they do”, and so far it has produced eight wins against no losses.
There couldn’t be a bigger difference in the style of play match-up between the Mountaineers and Cavaliers, so this game comes down to imposition of will. Which team can execute to its strengths the best.
|WVU (7-1) vs. UVA (8-0)||Thu Dec 5||7:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: Tied 9-9|
|RPI: WVU – 24 UVA- 14||TV: ESPNU||Sirius/XM: 145 / 193|
While the defensive approaches couldn’t be more different, the common factor is that both Bob Huggins and Tony Bennett emphasize play on that end of the floor. Bennett’s pack-line and Huggins’ Press Virginia are both designed to disrupt the flow of opposing offenses — they just get there with different tactics.
For a success measure for WVU, watch Virginia’s assist to turnover ratio. The Cavs own a 1.6:1 mark, which is ninth best nationally. WVU allows just .58 assists for every turnover it forces — eighth best in the country. UVA has assists on 113 of its 211 shots, so this whole area will be easy to judge. If the Cavaliers pile up assists and limit turnovers, they’ll leave the Coliseum unblemished. If West Virginia holds the visitors under a 1:1 ratio, and can get them in the mid-teens in turnovers, they have a great chance at another big RPI-boosting win.
The other key for West Virginia? Contributions from all areas. It won’t be able to overcome poor shooting performances from Jevon Carter or Daxter Miles. Sagaba Konate can’t play four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, or melt down in frustration. Teddy Allen and Wesley Harris have to rebound. Beetle Bolden and Chase Harler need to hit a couple of threes. Additionally, everyone has to play UVA’s constantly screening offense according to the scouting report, and not go under picks against shooters or chase them on the wrong side on the perimeter. That’s a tough assignment for a team still learning the finer points (or in some cases, the fundamental points) of defensive play, but it’s a must for the Mountaineers in this game. WVU must be patient and defend the entire length of the shot clock — it’s UVA’s M.O. to wear down opponents with its screen-and-rescreen offensive attack,
Virginia has been the number one team in the nation in points allowed in four of the last five seasons. The only year in which it did not hold the number one spot was 2015-16, when it was second. the Cavaliers are again tops so far this season, allowing just 50.1 points per game.
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West Virginia is 34th nationally in possessions per game, averaging 77.9 per contest. Virginia is dead last (351st), with 63 per game. Like the turnover battle, this is a key item to watch in the game. If WVU can get the pace up to about 70 or so possessions, it will have a much better chance of winning than if the Cavs keep it in the low 60s. Extra possessions off steals and turnovers, and extended possessions from offensive rebounds, will be the metrics to track.
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While stats do tell some of the story of the match-ups in this game, they must all be viewed through the lens of the pace of play each team employs. Virginia, which plays much more deliberately, can be expected to have lower raw numbers that WVU, which pushes the ball up and down the court.
With that in mind, a look at scoring efficiency, which measures points per possession, is instructive. WVU is 24th nationally at 1.150 ppp, while the Cavaliers are 34th at 1.119. That’s close, so again, it’s a mater of which team can push the pace to the level at which it is most comfortable.
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Princeton, W.Va., native Jimmy Miller is the new analyst on radio broadcasts of UVA basketball on the Virginia Sports Network. Miller was a high school star in the Mountain State before accepting a basketball scholarship offer from the Cavaliers. He scored 1,218 points in his four seasons in Charlottesville.