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NC State has a big opportunity and a stiff challenge at Virginia

UVA’s only home loss this season came against Houston.

Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett /Getty Images

After a year’s hiatus, Virginia will be back in the NCAAs in 2023, and there’s a pretty good chance that the Cavaliers end up winning the ACC regular season as well. They’re definitely the best team in the league, though that’s a low bar this year: they’re the only ACC team in the top 30 of the Pomeroy Ratings.

Virginia returned pretty much all of its meaningful minutes from 2022, so the Wahoos were bound to get better, and they’ve been more effective at both ends of the court, albeit unexceptionally so. And this is still the slowest-paced team in the league.

UVA, back at the top of the ACC pecking order

... OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
... OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
Offense 115.7 (24) 53.1 (49) 14.8 (9) 26.7 (241) 50.4 (166) 38.2 (18)
Defense 95.3 (26) 48.2 (87) 19.6 (110) 25.3 (54) 46.2 (41) 34.3 (201)

Leading the way in terms of workload offensively are Jayden Gardner (6’6, 233) and Armaan Franklin (6’4, 200), who account for more than half of the team’s shots when they’re on the court together.

Gardner remains an effective scorer from the midrange and in, he takes care of the ball, and he’s the Cavs’ best offensive rebounding threat. Franklin is shooting almost 40% from three, which is an impressive bounce-back performance after he struggled in ‘22 (29.6%). He’s a big reason why UVA has been among the nation’s best three-point shooting teams in 2023.

Isaac McKneely (6’4 179) is shooting 43.9% from three, Reece Beekman (6’3, 190) is shooting 43.1%, and Kihei Clark (still tiny) is at 40%. Though UVA doesn’t usually hoist a lot of outside shots—their three-point attempt rate is only a little above average. Beekman has only attempted 51 threes, and Clark has taken 70. They’re picking their spots, but they’re good spots. Both have taken more twos than threes.

McKneely, on the other hand, has taken 82 threes and just 28 twos. Pretty obvious what he’s about.

Virginia’s improvement defensively has been about defending the paint a little better, forcing turnovers a bit more often, and improving on the defensive boards. Last year’s team ranked just 209th in defensive rebounding percentage, which was highly unusual for a Tony Bennett squad.

The Hoos play excellent defense as unit, as always, but they really have only one rim protector—that’s 6’11 Kadin Shedrick—and for one reason or another he’s played only sparingly over the last few weeks. He didn’t play at all against Virginia Tech Saturday. Will Bennett alter his approach and get Shedrick back out there to try and frustrate DJ Burns? That’ll be one of the night’s storylines.

KenPom likes UVA by seven.