7:00 PM EST, ESPN2 – Line: Virginia-7, Over/Under: 139
Atlantic Coast Conference foes battle tonight in Raleigh, as the Third-Ranked Virginia Cavaliers face off against the Twenty-First-Ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack from PNC Arena. After suffering their first loss of the season, Virginia (18-1, 6-1 in ACC) has bounced back with a vengeance, easily besting their past two opponents by a resounding total of fifty points. In the wake of a tightly-contested, primetime 70-72 defeat to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tony Bennett’s charges refused to let that disappointment deter them from moving forward, immediately thumping Wake Forest in a 68-45 blowout last week. This one was never close, folks, as the Cavaliers raced out to an early lead before establishing a 36-23 lead at Halftime. Virginia’s signature suffocating Defense was in full swing, as the hosts relegated the visiting side to a scant 30.9% from the field, including 6-of-24 from beyond the arc, which more than made up for their own poor-shooting woes; 38.6% shooting is far from inspiring, and it’s a testament to their Defense that they managed to win by such a comfortable margin when shooting below 40%. Arguably the biggest difference though came from the Charity Stripe, where the home side calmly netted 17-of-21 Free-Throws (81.0%), outscoring the Demon Deacons by a dozen points in that regard. Fortunately, those shooting woes dissipated in a major way, for in their ensuing trip to South Bend they caught fire against Notre Dame in a 82-55 rout on Saturday. This time, Virginia knocked down over half of their attempts, shooting a blistering 52.2% of their attempts, including 8-of-18 from downtown in a contest that was delayed on four separate occasions due to the weather in that region. A modicum of efficiency, the Cavaliers raced out to an early 20-point lead, drilling sixteen of their first twenty-six field goal attempts, all the while committing just one turnover in the first half, while conversely, the Fighting Irish failed to score from the field until the 13:36 mark in the first period. Unsurprisingly, they became the sixteenth opponent that Bennett’s troops below sixty points, sending the hosts to their fourth consecutive defeat. In a balanced effort, five different players finished the affair in double-figures, De’Andre Hunter (14.7 PTS, 53.5% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.5 STL, 26.4 PER) with Nineteen Points on 9-of-15 shooting (60.0%), Seven Rebounds, and a pair of Assists, while Kyle Guy (15.0 PTS, 47.6% FG, 46.0% 3FG, 4.4 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 22.0 PER), a native of Indiana and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2016, added Fifteen Points on 6-of-8 shooting (75.0%), including 3-of-5 from three (60.0%), and Five Rebounds. If history is any indication, don’t expect these guys to slow down against the Wolfpack, for the Cavs have absolutely OWNED them since they hired Bennett back in 2009, owning a 10-2 record over that span, which includes a 5-game winning streak in which Virginia has won by an average margin of 17.6 Points. In fact, North Carolina State hasn’t beaten Bennett in the Regular Season, with their only two victories coming in the ACC Tournament.
Meanwhile, after a torrid start to the campaign, North Carolina State (16-4, 4-3 in ACC) is finding out that league play is a completely different animal. In his second season roaming the sideline in Raleigh, Kevin Keatts certainly has the Wolfpack headed in the right direction, with his charges well on pace to better their 21-12 record from last year, his first with the program since arriving from North Carolina-Wilmington. While it’s a bit unfair to say that Keatts’ charges have benefitted greatly from a cupcake non-conference schedule, for after all, they did play then-No. 21 Wisconsin (75-79) tough on the road, and even managed to beat No.7 Auburn (78-71) a few week later, their response to battling their Atlantic Coast Conference brethren would lead many to believe that they weren’t necessarily prepared for the step up in competition. In Conference Play, NC State is just 4-3, alternating wins and losses over the past three weeks. The biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor, where they rank towards the bottom of the ACC in a slew of categories including Points Allowed (78.1, 15th in ACC), Field Goal Percentage Allowed (45.6%, 12th in ACC), and Two-Point Field Goal Percentage Allowed (52.1%%%, 12th in ACC). They’ve also seen more Free-Throws Attempted against them than any other team in the league, yielding 144 Free-Throws (15th in ACC) on 190 Attempts (15th in ACC), which of course stems from their disappointing habit of fouling, committing 148 Personal Fouls, which unsurprisingly is the most in the conference. Through seven games, they’ve been outscored by Sixty-Five Points, which equates to an average of 9.3 Points per Game from the Charity Stripe. While it certainly seems like we’re piling on the Wolfpack, they did manage to escape their meeting with Clemson over the weekend, earning a clutch 69-67 victory in the game’s waning moments. Trailing by Six Points with 26.5 Seconds remaining, Clemson’s Marcquise Reed, an 84.3% shooter from the stripe, inexplicably missed four consecutive Free-Throws, opening the door for the hosts to climb back into the affair, with Braxton Beverly (9.7 PTS, 39.5% FG, 38.9% 3FG, 1.7 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 11.6 PER) burying a walk-off Three-Pointer to win the game as time expired. Before the Shot Head Round Raleigh, Beverly had put in a disappointing performance, going 2-of-9 from the field, including 0-of-4 from downtown, but clearly had a short enough memory to find the confidence to take the game-winning shot. PNC Arena has become a bit of a House of Horrors for the Tigers, who lost in a similar fashion (78-77) in Overtime in last year’s meeting, with missed Free-Throw splaying a major role in the outcome. For those interested, Clemson missed all but Two of their Eight Free-Throws inside the final Thirty-Five Seconds of the contest. North Carolina State received a boost with the healthy return of Junior Point Guard Markell Johnson (11.8 PTS, 57.0% FG, 46.4% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 4.0 AST, 0.9 STL, 24.9 PER), who had previously missed the past three outings after taking a nasty fall against Pittsburgh, scoring a team-high Sixteen Points on 6-of-10 shooting (60.0%), including 3-of-6 from three (50.0%), while C.J. Bryce (12.5 PTS, 51.7% FG, 45.5% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.5 STL, 22.8 PER), a UNC-Wilmington Transfer, and Torin Dorn (14.3 PTS, 48.9% FG, 31.4% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.2 STL, 22.3 PER) added Fifteen and Twelve Points respectively.