Virginia's Game Against VCU is a Measuring Stick

By Jeff Kelly
Peter Casey – USA TODAY Sports

There are high expectations for the Virginia Cavaliers heading into the 2013-14 season, as the Cavaliers entered the season ranked in the top-25 and opened the season with a 20-point win over James Madison. While that was an easy win over a less-than-stellar opponent, Cavs fans will get a much better sense of what kind of season they are in for when Virginia takes on No. 14-ranked Virginia Commonwealth tonight.

Shaka Smart‘s team opened the year with an absolutely dominant performance against Illinois State, winning 96-58 while shooting 55 percent from the field and 45 percent from three. The game tonight should establish which squad will be the dominant team in the state of Virginia this season, and after that opener for the Rams, VCU appears to have a slight edge heading into this matchup.

Virginia has been a trendy pick to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference title this season thanks in large part to the presence of players like Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Harris was a first team All-ACC selection last year, and Mitchell has a chance to join him this season. Tonight will be a big challenge for the Cavs and will allow them to see how they stack up against one of the better teams in the country, and certainly one of the most exciting.

One of the things to watch will be the difference in styles between the Cavs and Rams. The Cavs are more of a grinding team who are more likely to score in the 60s than the 90s, while the Rams are the exact opposite — a fast-paced, uptempo team that likes to run and score points in bunches. Tony Bennett‘s Virginia squad is much more methodical, so it will be interesting to see which team can dictate the pace of the game.

That could be the key to deciding the victory. Can the Cavs stop the Rams from running, and will the Rams be able to thrive in halfcourt sets?

Something that the Cavs should be concerned with is that if the team struggled to score against James Madison, how effective will they be against a VCU team that’s vastly superior athletically to JMU? As a team, Virginia shot just 41.7 percent from the field, and Harris was limited to five points. As a team, the Cavs handed out only nine assists. For the sake of comparison, the Rams had 26 assists as a team in their season-opening win.

There are obviously some kinks to work out and some offseason rust to shake off for the Cavs, but if they can topple Smart’s squad tonight, it will go a long way towards confirming that Virginia is a team to be reckoned with this year.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on  Follow him on Twitter @jekelish and “Like” him on Facebook.

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