Two ACC teams heading in opposite directions do battle on Saturday in Charlottesville. Here’s a preview of the season finale between Louisville and Virginia.
TV Schedule: Saturday, March 9, 4:30p.m. ET, ESPN
Arena: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
One team is looking to win the ACC regular-season title and all but secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the other is looking to finish the season on a high note and perhaps improve their seed line if they can. The two will face off at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon when the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers (27-2, 15-2) host Chris Mack’s Louisville Cardinals (19-11, 10-7) in a key ACC tilt.
Virginia was the No. 1 overall seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and we all know what happened there. It doesn’t seem to have affected Tony Bennett’s group much as they are right back in the conversation for the top seed in this year’s tournament as well. The only blemishes on the Cavaliers’ resume are a pair of losses to Duke, who isn’t half bad either. Whether Virginia enters the ACC tournament as the top seed or not probably won’t matter much as they should still be a favorite to win the title.
Louisville on the other hand, since defeating No. 11 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, the Cardinals were 8-2 in the ACC but have since have gone just 2-5, losing to Duke, Florida State, Boston College, Syracuse, and this Virginia Team. Instead of possibly looking at a five seed in the NCAA Tournament, they are now, according to most bracketologists, in the range of the seven line and looking to turn things around in a hurry.
We have been hearing all year long how this Virginia team is different than the one that made history last March, and they are. They still have the same suffocating defense, they are tops in the country in points allowed per game (54.1) and at defending the three-pointer (26.9%), as well as being 3rd in field goal percentage defense (37.3%), but what sets this team apart is the fact that they can score a bit on offense. Virginia averages over 72 points per game on offense, and while that doesn’t sound like a ton, that is the highest number for a Cavalier team in about a decade and leaps and bounds ahead of the 67 per game they scored last season.
Nothing illustrates this year’s team better than their last game against Syracuse. Trailing by two at the half, they held the Orange to 19-second-half points, while scoring 47 and knocked down 18 long-distance shots, winning the game in a runaway. They are a bit top heavy offensively, with Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter accounting for nearly 44 points per game, but with their defense, that really hasn’t come into play.
Since beating Virginia Tech, Louisville has struggled offensively averaging just 62 points per game, and this is a team that has averaged nearly 75 on the season. In fact, before beating Notre Dame in their last game, they had averaged just 60 points per game over their previous six. The offensive struggles have been team-wide, but the top three scorers for Louisville, Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, and Christen Cunningham have scored just 33 points per game in that span, down from the nearly 38 they average on the season.
With Louisville’s offensive struggles, Virginia is the last team they want to see as they try and end the regular season with a win. The biggest key in this game will be whether the Cardinals can make a concerted effort to get the ball to the basket, to get easier shots against this defense. Unfortunately for Louisville, trying to get your offensive groove back against Virginia on the road is not the most ideal situation. Virginia should come away with a senior day win and do so with relative ease.