On paper, you wouldn’t think there would be much reason to put the Virginia Cavaliers on upset alert on Saturday when they host state and ACC rival Virginia Tech. After all, the Cavaliers are tied for second in the conference standings with a 5-1 record and are an impressive 14-5 overall. The Hokies, on the other hand, are in the cellar in the ACC with a 1-5 mark and an 8-10 overall record.
So what does Virginia have to worry about? A letdown. The Cavaliers have performed very well in games against moderate to strong teams this season, beating Florida State twice, handling North Carolina at home and coming within a couple baskets late of beating Duke on the road. All five of Virginia’s conference wins this college basketball season have come by at least 12 points — a rarity for a team under head coach Tony Bennett that was always known for playing tough defense and scoring just enough points to get by.
After winning at Miami to start ACC play then falling at home by 20 to undefeated Syracuse, the Hokies have dropped four straight conference games. However, the average margin of defeat in those four games has only been 5.8 PPG, and in none of those contests did Virginia Tech lose by more than seven. Home losses in that stretch to Boston College and Wake Forest have done enough to make the Hokies even more of an afterthought than they already were in the conference this season.
But Virginia should know from recent history that looking past Virginia Tech to next Tuesday’s game at Notre Dame is perilous. In the 2011-12 season, Virginia had a strong campaign, finishing 22-10 (9-7 ACC). Virginia Tech was just 16-17 (5-13). When the teams met in Charlottesville that season on January 22, the Hokies were still winless in the conference and Virginia was 2-1, the only loss being a three-point heart-breaker at Duke (sound familiar?).
On that day, however, Virginia Tech got the better of its rival, beating Virginia 47-45. While the Cavaliers got revenge in Blacksburg later in the season (61-59 on February 21), the home loss to Tech probably hurt Virginia a bit when it came to NCAA Tournament seeding. The Cavaliers got in but were destroyed in their opening game by Florida 71-45.
Even with a strong lineup that features Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and standout freshman point guard London Perrantes, Virginia can’t afford to look past Saturday’s game with Virginia Tech. Hokies’ leading scorer Jarell Eddie averages 14.8 PPG and scored 20 in an 83-77 loss to Wake Forest last time out. That performance may have snapped Eddie out of a slump after he had just five points combined in Virginia Tech’s prior two games. Virginia’s defense must take Eddie out of the game offensively to make sure the Hokies don’t pull an upset the likes of the one they earned two years ago.