Wahoowa to all Virginia Basketball fans! It is such an exciting moment to finally witness Virginia creep back into the top five in the nation. The last time this occurred was in the 2015-2016 season, that was starred by current NBA shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon, who won Rookie of the Year in 2016. This Virginia squad is morphing into a similar beast as they have had all-around dominating wins over rivals Virginia Tech and North Carolina. In both games, Virginia won by double figures with stifling defense and efficient offense.
The team has taken a major stride since getting pummeled by the University of Florida in the March Madness tourney and have shined in the national spotlight. The grit and determination of this team can take them far, especially with three senior leaders in Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt. Keeping the team’s focus and intensity at a high level will lead Virginia to capture a number one seed in the national tournament.
However, a slight letdown performance such as the game against Syracuse that Virginia almost lost grip on, cannot afford to happen again in their upcoming matchup against red-hot North Carolina State (NC State). Though NC State has a winless road record this season, they have signature wins over prominent teams such as Arizona and Duke. We all know John Paul Jones Arena will be rowdy and reckless on Sunday evening. But will NC State finally pick up their first road win?
Preview and Prediction: Virginia Basketball vs NC State Wolfpack
The last two times these teams faced off, Virginia made easy pickings off the Wolfpack. They won both games by a combined 35 points behind suffocating defense and timely shooting. The Wolfpack struggle mightily attacking Virginia’s pack-line defense as explained by their double-figure turnovers in its past two matchups. Finding playmakers that can shoot the three-ball efficiently against this defense has been a major issue. This hasn’t changed in 2017, with NC State ranked 256th in three-point percentage, which does not bode well against Virginia’s renowned pack-line defense.
The pack-line defense glaring holes only come against teams that are great at catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities. Because their defense focuses on denying dribble penetration and clogging all lanes, it is very tough to put up an efficient shot against this team. The only way to spread them out is by hitting the three-ball at will. Unfortunately, the Wolfpack are a team that likes to attack the paint and works the ball into their big men. They are ranked 254th in three-point tries attempted, which indicates that they are an inside team that will use their guards to drive at the bodies of defenders. I’d expect a lot of turnovers if this type of game plan is utilized because the pack-line defense includes a lot of help defense and trapping that will cause misfits for the Wolfpack.
As we witnessed in their upset over Duke, NC State consistently found ways to get the ball to 7’0 center omer Yurtseven, who tied for a team-high of 16 points and had nine rebounds. Though he will most likely be contained by a strong Virginia defense, his rebounding skills will create second-shot opportunities for the Wolfpack that will allow them to stay within striking distance throughout the game.
Virginia was absolutely exposed on the boards against Syracuse, as they were outrebounded 41-31. 7’2 Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu was feasting off Virginia’s four-guard lineup, bringing down 16 total rebounds, 10 of them offensive. Head Coach Tony Bennett addressed this issue in his postgame interview and will ensure his team will come out more physical against NC State.
Virginia has put its letdown game against Syracuse behind them and will give the student section a much better overall performance as many come back for the Spring Semester this upcoming week. Virginia wants to cement itself as a serious contender for March Madness and display their unbelievable backcourt trio of Devon Hall, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy. Bennett’s defense will go back to its rebounding fundamentals of boxing out and sliding harder on their rotations. Though NC State has another year of experience with a few returners from last year’s matchup, they seem to struggle to find an answer competing with Virginia. I expect another similar result.