The Virginia Cavaliers may be the biggest and most pleasant surprise in the ACC so far this season after posting a 10-1 conference record and a 19-5 overall record. Virginia had some high expectations coming into the year with guard Joe Harris primed for a successful senior campaign.
Expectations quickly dropped in December when the Cavaliers dropped back-to-back games to Wisconsin and Green Bay. These losses quieted Virginia fans and many believed this would be yet another disappointing season in Charlottesville.
Well, while everyone stopped discussing the Cavaliers as a real contender, they just kept winning when conference play started. The team’s only loss — against Duke — could have been a victory had a couple bounces went in Virginia’s favor.
Now, slated alone in second place and having a chance to beat Syracuse later this season and claim a first-place tie, the Cavaliers have a big week ahead against Maryland on Monday and at Clemson on Saturday. Both of these look to be victories on paper, but Clemson has picked up a couple of upsets and Maryland is coming off an extremely impressive victory over Florida State this past weekend. This means Virginia cannot overlook this week and must continue to be aggressive on defense, control the pace on offense and pick up two should-be wins.
Virginia is winning mostly because of how well it controls the pace of the game. Coach Tony Bennett does not produce the most exciting basketball, but what he preaches is being practiced on the court. Virginia has won seven straight games and held every opponent to no more than 67 points. Out of the those games, only Boston College shot better than 45 percent (48 percent). Virginia is second in NCAA in points allowed at 55.6. That more than makes up for an offense that averages only 66.5 points per game but obviously gives the Cavaliers quite the advantage on point differential.
On offense, no one player sticks out as a supreme scorer with Malcolm Brogdon leading the team at 12.1 points per game, but the team gets at least 6.8 points from six players. This kind of balance favors a team that wants to slow the game down and lull defenses to sleep. The Cavaliers strike with scores late and every player on the floor can contribute.
Virginia has a long way to go before facing Syracuse Mar. 1, but not slipping against inferior teams — especially this week — is crucial for the Cavaliers to gain a high seed come postseason play.
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