Virginia at N.C. State

Virginia (16-3, 3-2) at NC State (15-6, 4-2), 8:00 PM, ESPN2/ESPN3

Lorenzo Brown didn't play well against North Carolina, but he has a chance to bounce back at home against a tough defensive team.

This has become a huge game for both teams, as both are fighting for that top-four ACC spot. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are all 4-1 in the league, and if these two teams want to keep pace, they need to win. Virginia let Boston College hang around, but they ultimately won 66-49 after a late run. N.C. State will have a stiff test: can it bounce back after being routed by their arch rival, or do they have an emotional letdown? Virginia found offense against Boston College at home on Thursday, but will it last?

Stat to watch: “Garbage” points (points off turnovers/second-chance points). In theory, these are points scored after mistakes by an opponent, Yes, one team can force an opponent into those mistakes, but some teams thrive on them more than others. Virginia’s defense is so stingy that it doesn’t let you get many of those types of points. The Cavaliers’ ACC opponents have averaged just 11 such points a game; opponents have turned 6.4 offensive boards a game into just 4.4 second-chance points. Duke and Miami combined to turn 20 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points; since, Virginia has allowed 12 (total) offensive rebounds in three games and just eight second-chance points. The Cavaliers were having some trouble with turnovers and they have averaged just 8.8 in ACC play (7.7 in wins, 10.5 in losses). Opponents have scored 5.5 points per game off of those turnovers. The Cavaliers don’t attack the offensive glass much but in ACC play, they’ve averaged 11 offensive rebounds and 13.2 second-chance points.

Against North Carolina, N.C. State had just 20 such points, their lowest total since Syracuse (18). N.C. State hasn’t allowed its opponents, particularly in ACC play, to do much of that type of scoring either but Miami had 18 points off turnovers and 12 points off offensive rebounds in a win that the Wolfpack should have had a bit more handily. If N.C. State can’t get second-chance points or points off turnovers, it will have a hard time scoring a lot of points against Virginia’s set half-court defense.

North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall said it was the Tar Heels’ goal to make the Wolfpack go deep into the shot clock, and the tactic seemed to make State go one-on-one too much. “When you get a team like State that has to go deep into their shot clock, it may be a little bit harder for them,” Marshall said. “They’re a team that spreads out across the floor and they like to utilize all their players, and if they have to depend on one player to make a play, it may be a little tougher on them.” Virginia is a much slower-paced team than North Carolina and in N.C. State’s three slowest games this year in terms of possessions they are 3-0, but beat Princeton, St. Bonaventure and North Carolina Central by a combined nine points. They’ll have to make their possessions count tonight.

Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State and Mike Scott, Virginia. Brown has played very good basketball this season, but not in Chapel Hill on Thursday night. He had nine points, but three were on a banked-in 94-footer at the halftime buzzer (which was still a remarkable shot). But he didn’t hit any two-point baskets and had six assists to five turnovers. Still, a game like that is part of the growth process for Brown, and he should be much better against Virginia. And N.C. State needs him: Brown actually has 12 assists and nine turnovers in the Wolfpack’s two ACC losses (along with shooting 36.8%, 25% from two). In four ACC wins, he has shot 48.7% (52% from two) and has 32 assists to just 12 turnovers. He also needs to get to the foul line more: he was averaging 4.3 attempts before ACC play and 2.3 in conference. He’s averaged 3.7 in the first three ACC games and has made just three trips in the last three games.

Everything goes through Mike Scott for the Cavaliers, and that was enough of a load for him before Assane Sene’s injury. He has played two games without Sene with mixed results: Virginia Tech held him to ten points on 4-of-9 shooting in a loss and in Thursday’s win over BC, Scott had 18 on 7-of-11 shooting. But BC doesn’t have the personnel to limit him. This game will be the big test for Scott – N.C. State’s bigs are more than capable of defending Scott, particularly if he’s the only post threat. If he can go off, even if Virginia loses, then the Cavaliers will likely be fine until Sene’s return. If he can’t and he’s limited as he was against Virginia Tech, then Virginia could not only lose this one, but a few more afterwards.

Random stat: Virginia has won the last three meetings, but they’re still not close to their longest streak of seven in a row from 1994-95 through 1997-98. N.C. State won the second and third meetings in 1998 to break the streak and went on to win 11 of the next 16. But since 2007, N.C. State is just 2-6 against Virginia and their last win came in 2009 at home. The last two times N.C. State has faced a ranked Virginia team, they have won. In 2001, the Wolfpack knocked off No. 6 Virginia at home and in 2002, N.C. they beat No. 8 Virginia at home, 85-68.

Prediction: Virginia 62, N.C. State 61

Last week: 7-5

Season: 84-31 (21-12 ACC)

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