Virginia: ACC Outlook

Mike Scott is having an ACC Player of the Year season so far.

Record to date: 13-1

Strength so far: That pack-line defense. Five opponents have had their least efficient offensive outing of the season against Virginia (including their best opponent to date, Michigan). Their scoring defense (50.4 ppg allowed) can’t be chalked up to slow pace; the Cavaliers are second in points per possession allowed (0.72) and FIRST in loss of ball percentage forced (20.2%). When you only get 60-70 possessions a game and you’re turning it over even 12-15 times, it’s too many against Virginia, which will limit your possessions by making sure you don’t get offensive rebounds.

Needs improvement: Consistency. It’s hard to say that about a 13-1 team, but for Virginia to lose to TCU is bad. Narrowly beating Seattle on the road is excusable, considering the circumstances. Squeaking by Towson, arguably the worst Division-I team, a group riding a 34-game losing streak, is awful. Especially at home. Last year’s team – albeit without Mike Scott – gave Wake Forest its only ACC win last year and blew a TEN-POINT LEAD with 43 seconds left in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

Most important player: Mike Scott. If Virginia finishes in the top 3-4 in the league and he continues on this pace, he could win ACC Player of the Year. He’s fifth in scoring (16 ppg), first in field goal percentage (61.9%), 4th in rebounding (9.0 rpg) and 7th in free-throw percentage. Scott has done this in a slow-paced offense for which he attempts 68.1% of their total shots when he’s on the floor and plays 72.7% of available minutes.

Reason for optimism: Multiple perimeter scoring options. Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Sammy Zeglinski give Virginia three perimeter players who can score fairly reliably. That, combined with Scott on the interior and the stingy Cavalier defense, should result in a lot of ACC wins.

Reason for pessimism: Lack of depth. Scott, Harris and Zeglinski all average double figures, but the other two starters – Jontel Evans and Assane Sene average 6.0 and 5.2 points, respectively. K.T. Harrell was seventh in scoring, but he transferred. That leaves only Akil Mitchell (3.5 points, 18.0 minutes), Darion Atkins (2.9 points, 8.7 minutes) and Paul Jesperson (1.7 points, 6.3 minutes). Maybe one of them could emerge as a fourth scorer, but it’s not likely. If any of the top four scorers get hurt, Virginia is in trouble.

Surprising stat: This is from the blog From Old Virginia, which pretty much nails the Cavaliers’ situation:

UVA’s non-conference strength of schedule is 261st right now, worst among the RPI top 50. …. My best guess is that an 8-8 record in-conference would send us to Hokieland – that dark place where you sit in front of the TV (or worse, Jumbotron) on Selection Sunday and never hear your name …  We don’t wanna be Greenberged. Our schedule does not put us in a happy place, because we get all the crap teams just once. … And if UNC and Duke are losses, that makes us 5-3 with eight tossups. …. Assuming I’m right about the other half of the schedule, even 4-4 would get us to the tournament.  Worse than 4-4 in those eight games, and you’re really sweating Selection Sunday.

Most likely wins (9): Miami (1/7), @Ga. Tech (1/19), Va. Tech (1/22), BC (1/26), Clemson (1/31), Wake (2/8), @Clemson (2/14), Maryland (2/18), FSU (3/1)

Most likely losses (3): @Duke (1/12), @UNC (2/11), @Va. Tech (2/21)

Toss-ups (4): @NCST (1/28), @FSU (2/4), UNC (2/25), @Maryland (3/4)

Best-case scenario: 13-3.

Worst-case scenario: 7-9. (But only with an injury to a rotation player.)

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