Only two basketball teams are left undefeated in the nation: the Virginia Cavaliers and the Michigan Wolverines. It’s no easy feat consistently battling against tough foes on the road with obnoxiously loud fan bases who do nothing but make life miserable. Taunting you for an entire game for just one airball is the unfortunate reality of every college basketball player on the road. Communication by trust plays a pivotal role especially among the drowning cheers and screams of the road crowd. However, none of this phased the No.4 Virginia men’s basketball team as they handily defeated the Boston College Eagles 83-56 as 12 point favorites. Leading the charge was 2019 NBA projected lottery pick De’Andre Hunter, who scored 18 points on 6-11 shooting (2-3 3-pt).
Virginia’s back on the road again against the Clemson Tigers, who return home after consecutive ACC road losses to the Duke Blue Devils and Syracuse Orange by a combined 27 points. In both games, Clemson was led by senior guard Marcquise Reed, who scored 16 and 15 points respectively. He’s going to have to be on his game and attack the rim at will to stand a chance against the number one defense in the country. Benches must contribute and play hard-nosed minutes if they want to stay alive.
In another humbling post-game press conference with Tony Bennett, he immediately points out the areas of improvement for his team on the defensive end despite holding Boston College 20 points under their season average. One priority is cleaning up the glass and getting in better rebounding position to prevent second-chance opportunities.
Coming into this Clemson matchup, Virginia is only a 6.5 point favorite, a peculiar line for a team that has played big brother to the rest of the ACC conference. They’ve dominated in all facets of the game, controlling the pace, getting efficient shots off, and playing impeccable defense. It’s as tight-knit of a team you can find, as you can publicly see them enjoy each other’s company off the court, hanging out after practice, getting Chipotle together, and cracking good-hearted jokes at one another. This translates effortlessly on the court; everyone knows their spots and can set their teammates up in favorable positions. In games where they are a favorite of fewer than 10 points, Virginia is 3-0 against the spread (ATS) this season. Meanwhile, Clemson is 0-2 ATS as underdogs and have failed bookies all season, recording a mark of 4-11 ATS. In both matchups last year, Virginia beat Clemson by 27 on the road and 6 at home, giving them a major psychological edge to this matchup. Clemson struggles to find cracks into Virginia’s signature defense and I expect them to have the exact same issue coming into tomorrow afternoon.
Clemson’s offense is spearheaded by senior guard Reed, who MUST shoulder the load and exploit Virginia’s late-closeouts on three-point shots. He’s averaging 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. An all-around, turnover less game will play a pivotal role in his team’s success. This team cannot afford to lose any possessions to the 2nd slowest team in the nation, that will suck the life out of you. Every possession is taking to the last few seconds and always finds its way to being an effortless shot.
Live and die by the three will lead to Virginia’s demise and upset, but don’t expect such event to occur. As a team, Clemson shoots 31.6%, ranking them 286th in the country. Virginia, on the other hand, ranks 16th in the nation, knocking down 39.5% of their three’s.
Virginia has a bevy of options to go to, creating matchup problems for opposing team. Currently, this team’s demonstrated that they can have five different players go out there and get you double figures on any given night. One day it’s junior guard and leading scorer, Kyle Guy who will drown you with three’s. Another game it’ll be lottery pick and second-leading scorer De’Andre Hunter, who can pick and choose any spot on the court and shoot right over any defender. Statistically, Virginia has three players averaging double-figures this season and haven’t shown any slowdown. It’s a Big 3 unit, with guards Guy and Ty Jerome alongside forward Hunter that causes defenses misfits.
In analyzing the three sets of back-to-back games Virginia had, two of them all came within 6 points. Head coach Tony Bennett will have his troops prepared for this prime-time matchup, but there is a heavy feeling of a let-down in this game. Wednesday, they traveled to Massachusetts and now had to bus all the way down to South Carolina. Fatigued legs will impact this game, but I do not expect Virginia to falter. It will be a tight game all the way until the last three minutes where both teams will be jockeying to cover this 6 and half point spread.