Virginia men’s and women’s basketball — a breakdown

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Senior center Jack Salt and the rest of Virginia's big men will need to increase their rebounding output as non-conference play progresses.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

Virginia men’s and women’s basketball — a breakdown

The Cavalier Daily sports staff breaks down some players to watch and keys to the game for men’s and women’s basketball. Women’s basketball started 0-1, losing to No. 6 Mississippi State 72-44 at home. The team will look to bounce back against Kentucky on the road Thursday night. Ranked No. 4 in the country, men’s basketball is 2-0, coming off a 76-57 win over George Washington. The team faces Coppin State Friday night as they look to continue their winning ways.

Players to watch:

Virginia guard De’Andre Hunter:

With his NBA frame and measurables, sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter was projected by pundits at the beginning of the season to be the X-factor for Virginia. He has already shown through two games why this is true, demonstrating his range and ability to get to the basket, as well as grit in rebounding and defending. However, in order to maximize his potential, Hunter needs to get even more involved on the offensive end. Whether from more isolation plays, or more purposeful looks in the post, he needs more chances to get his jumpshot going and make more plays off the dribble for himself and his teammates. At 6-foot-7, Hunter will be a major matchup problem for Coppin State, which will have difficulty defending him given his ability to stretch the floor. Hunter has started off hot, but with more offense directed through him, he can reach his potential.

Virginia center Felicia Aiyeotan

Virginia’s junior center Felicia Aiyeotan, who is tied for the tallest player in NCAA women’s basketball this season at 6-foot-9, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds against Mississippi State, along with four blocked shots. However, she was also faced with possibly her toughest matchup of the season against Mississippi State senior center Teaira McCowan, who was named SEC Preseason Player of the Year and stands at 6-foot-7. McCowan only notched 12 rebounds and four blocks against Aiyeotan, but did also score 12 points, while Aiyeotan only scored four. Aiyeotan will look to improve her offensive contributions against Kentucky. The Wildcats are a much more favorable matchup for her, as their tallest starters are only 6-foot-2.

Keys to the game:

More rebounding from the bigs 

While the Cavaliers have had a lot of positive takeaways from the first two games of the season — junior guard Ty Jerome’s lethal offense potentially being the most promising — one area that could be improved is more involvement from Virginia’s bigs. Against Towson, senior center Jack Salt only played for 15 minutes and picked up three rebounds, three points and three fouls. Junior forward Mamadi Diakite posted similar numbers against Towson, getting two points and two rebounds along with three fouls in his 17 minutes of play. Against George Washington, Salt had three rebounds and Mamadi — who had a better offensive showing with 10 points — only had three rebounds and — again — three fouls. The Cavaliers’ leading rebounders against the Colonials were Jerome and Guy, with six rebounds each. While Jerome shooting 71.4 percent from three on the season helps the Cavaliers not need to rely too much on points from their bigs, Virginia needs Salt and Diakite rebounding better. Coppin State has had offensive struggles at the start of their season — shooting .327 on all field goal attempts and .264 from three —  but they’ve only been slightly out-rebounded by their opponents. Coppin State has 70 rebounds combined in their first two games, while their two opponents had a combined 76 rebounds. The Cavaliers will need their bigs to step up here to keep Coppin State from getting easy scoring opportunities off of second chances on offense. 

Limiting turnovers

Against Mississippi State, the Cavaliers turned the ball over 23 times, including six apiece from sophomore point guard Khyasia Caldwell and junior small forward Jocelyn Willoughby. Caldwell was starting in place of redshirt freshman Amandine Toi, who will be out for the season with a right knee injury after missing all of last season with a left knee injury. In 24 minutes, she attempted 11 shots from the field and only made one, failing to register an assist. Willoughby, who was expected to be one of Virginia’s main offensive contributors this season, also only made one field goal in 19 minutes. Last season, junior guard Dominique Toussaint led the team in turnovers with 117. However, Toussaint only turned the ball over three times against Mississippi State, scoring a career-high 19 points on the night to lead the Cavaliers. If Toussaint is able to keep up her progress and Willoughby returns to her usual form, the Cavaliers will be much more dangerous with the ball, where they often struggled last season despite being strong defensively. 

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