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ACC Tournament 2017: Virginia Cavaliers Preview

Tony Bennett’s squad doesn’t have the fire of some of his previous teams, but as Carolina knows all too well, they’re still dangerous.

Pittsburgh v Virginia Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images

For the next several days, the Tar Heel Blog staff will be previewing each ACC team heading into the ACC Tournament. We’ll be highlighting how the season has gone for each team, and discussing the state of each school heading into the postseason.

Virginia Cavaliers

Overall Record: 21-9

Conference record: 11-7

Biggest wins: @ #6 Louisville (61-53), @ #14 Notre Dame (71-54), #5 UNC (53-43)

Worst losses: @ Pittsburgh (76-88, OT), @Syracuse (62-66)

Key players: London Perrantes, Kyle Guy, Isaiah Wilkins

Chance of making NCAA Tournament: A decent resume and impressive reputation has put Virginia comfortably in the NCAA tournament.

It hasn’t been the best year for Tony Bennett’s UVA team. However, it says a lot about what he has done for the program that a down year still nets the team a 20-win season, a likely top-25 ranking to finish the regular season, and 6th place in a stacked ACC.

At the beginning of the year, Virginia was already facing questions about how to replace the offensive production of 2016 stars Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill. Popular opinion was that the team would take a hit, but it wouldn’t be too bad, especially with Memphis transfer Austin Nichols eligible to play in the 2016-2017 season, giving the team a skilled, athletic inside presence. Point guard London Perrantes, always an efficient but low-volume scorer, seemed poised to take up more of a scoring mantle as well, and the Cavaliers were expected to challenge near the top of the ACC.

After just one game, though, all that went awry when Nichols was dismissed from the team for a serious violation of team rules. Suddenly, Virginia was left with just one proven scorer on the roster in Perrantes, and the questions as to whether Virginia had the offensive firepower to keep up with the top teams in the nation grew ever louder.

To their credit, Virginia has had a totally respectable season, even though those fears have proven to be not totally unfounded. Their pack line defense and quick post-doubling strategy is as well-coached as ever, and according to Pomeroy’s rankings, Virginia’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency is a full two points per 100 possessions better than the next team’s.

Offensively, they’ve mostly been able to tread water behind Perrantes, their only player averaging double figures in points, and solid contributions from the rest of the team, with four players averaging between seven and nine points per game. The team only averages 67 points per game, but when you play defense and slow down the game as much as Virginia does, that just might be enough.

Freshman Kyle Guy has been the real surprise of the season, as UVA freshmen in recent years haven’t often come on like he has. In only 18 minutes per game he has averaged eight points per contest and is shooting an even 50% from behind the arc on 92 attempts. UNC fans know all too well that he can break out, having had one of his best games against the Heels in Charlottesville on February 26th. Isaiah Wilkins is another key contributor on both sides of the floor, as he averages seven points and six rebounds per contest in addition to being a near-lock for the ACC all-defensive team (not published at the time of this writing).

Aside from their win at Louisville and their drubbing of UNC at home, the Cavaliers have looked, for the most part, like a good, not great team. They have dropped many—perhaps most—of their 50/50 games, such as their match ups against West Virginia, Miami, and at Virginia Tech. While their defensive style and ability to dictate tempo at will makes them as dangerous as always, this Virginia team, while certainly not a pushover, does not appear to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the ACC or the country.

Virginia will begin ACC Tournament play on Wednesday, March 8, playing the winner of Georgia Tech/Pittsburgh. Georgia Tech is inconsistent but capable of being a giant killer, and Pittsburgh has already beaten Virginia this year. It’s not likely, but not unthinkable, that this region of the ACCT bracket might be ripe for a big upset.