Virginia is definitely under the radar so far this season after starting the year setting basketball back to the days of James Naismith with a lethargic offense that did not produce fun or points.
However, since losing to Tennessee on Dec. 30, the Cavaliers have started the ACC season undefeated with convincing victories at Florida State (62-50) and against Wake Forest at home (74-51) following the Demon Deacons’ surprise upset of North Carolina.
Virginia is still not setting the world on fire with the 309th best scoring average of 65.2 points per game. However, the Cavaliers are playing a little better on offense. The team shot 50 percent against Wake Forest, hit seven three-pointers and had four players score at least 10 points. While this may not exactly be the Virginia fans were expecting when the Cavaliers started the season ranked in the top-25, there is at least a sign of life in Charlottesville.
This will only hold up if the Cavaliers can keep up their ACC winning streak against North Carolina State on the road Saturday. The Wolfpack are coming off a solid victory over Notre Dame Tuesday. The Irish had just upset Duke over the weekend, but the Wolfpack won because of T.J. Warren‘s 17 points and seven rebounds. Those numbers are actually low compared to what Warren had been doing lately, but they were enough for the Wolfpack. Notre Dame erased a double-digit deficit in the second half but could never get over the hill as NC State went on to win going away. This game could not have come at a better time for coach Mark Gottfried. State could have dropped to 0-2 in the ACC after that game, and with Virginia coming into town, an 0-3 conference record would be tough to overcome.
The match-up Saturday between these two will come down to which team can force the issue more. Virginia still wants to slow the pace and control the game defensively while State will want to get the ball in Warren’s hands early and often to let him take over the game. Warren will get his, but if Virginia can slow the game down enough, he may become frustrated with the pace and feel the need to force shots.
This game highlights the ACC this weekend because of how desperate both teams should be even this early in the conference year. Virginia was supposed to be a top-25 club, and North Carolina State wants to get the most of Warren’s year. Don’t be surprised if this game comes down to foul shots or a buzzer-beating basket.
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