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NC State sure could use a breakthrough against Virginia

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NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to keep the dream of an NCAA tournament bid alive as long as one is theoretically possible, but NC State’s chances obviously don’t look so good at this point. The Wolfpack is a manageable 3-5 in league play, but it is running out of games—there are only nine left on the schedule—and there aren’t any real headline win opportunities out there.

The biggest resume win still available is tonight, against Virginia, which has separated itself a bit from the rest of the ACC.

— You may recall last season that Virginia’s offense was a major liability, which made the team a lot more vulnerable than we’d grown accustomed to. Well, Virginia solved that problem, in large part thanks to a pair of transfers: Sam Hauser (Marquette) and Trey Murphy (Rice). Hauser was already a standout at his last stop and has kept that rolling at UVA, shooting 59% on twos and 42% on threes in 2021. Murphy, who leans more on his jump shooting, is at 48.5% from three.

— UVA finished last season ranked 249th in 2FG% and 311th in 3FG%. This year, the Cavaliers rank 13th and 15th, respectively. The unit ranks 11th in overall efficiency, after finishing 2020 at 249th.

— Making that sort of turnaround has to be a collective effort, and UVA’s holdovers from a season ago have pretty much all gotten better. First and foremost there’s Jay Huff, who has been on another level entirely. Despite a substantial increase in workload, Huff has only gotten more efficient: he’s shooting 70% on twos and 50% on threes (in addition to 88% at the free throw line). That efficiency has held up in league play. Dude was a true four-year project, but damn did he pay off for Tony Bennett.

— And there’s Kihei Clark, who is benefitting from not having to do as much this season. He’s even shooting better than 51% inside the arc, which is an accomplishment for a short dude, especially one who never even cracked 40% in a season prior to this one.

— UVA’s defense is a bit more vulnerable in 2021 (probably an inevitability of playing two transfers heavy minutes), but still good: 19th in efficiency. In ACC games, UVA ranks sixth in eFG% defense and 14th in defensive turnover rate. Still the Cavs have had the best defense in the league. It’s a tough ask for an NC State team relying on freshman guards to have consistent success here.

— KenPom likes Virginia by six.