The Virginia men’s basketball team looks to continue its torrid start to the season Thursday night against Georgia Tech in Charlottesville. With more than half the regular season complete, the Cavaliers are 17-0, their best start since the 1980-81 team won its first 23 games.
Virginia comes off a strong 66-51 victory against Boston College, despite trailing into the second half. Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 points, including going 3-of-6 from range, to help offset fellow junior guard Justin Anderson’s uncharacteristically cold shooting night, in which he missed all eight of his field goal attempts. Junior forward Anthony Gill added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets, Virginia’s Thursday opponent, started the season with a 9-3 out-of-conference record, before slumping to five straight losses to begin conference play. Last Saturday they recorded a 70-65 loss to Pittsburgh in which they failed to score for a five minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
Despite Georgia Tech’s struggles, as well as an upcoming schedule for Virginia that includes games against Duke, Louisville and North Carolina, coach Tony Bennett refuses to take the Yellow Jackets lightly.
“We’re getting as ready as we can, and we’re going to go against a physical Georgia Tech team trying to take the good things we did [against Boston College], build on them, and address the areas where we need to improve,” Bennett said.
Though Georgia Tech has been struggling as of late, as Bennett mentioned, it is a team known for its physical play. The meeting poses a great matchup on the glass, with Virginia currently ranked first in the ACC in defensive rebounds and Georgia Tech ranked second in the ACC in offensive rebounds. The Cavaliers’ defense has been stifling thus far, allowing a measly 50.6 points per game on the season, but on missed shots it will have to contend with the big bodies of junior forward Charles Mitchell, senior center Demarco Cox and senior forward Robert Sampson, all of whom average more than six rebounds per game for the Yellow Jackets.
Despite a bruising front line, the Yellow Jackets remain one of the poorer offensive teams in the country, ranking 14th in the ACC averaging only 65.6 points per game. Starting at the shooting guard position is junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, who leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game. Though Georges-Hunt provides a tough matchup for Malcolm Brogdon with his creativity and constant attack on the basket — he averages more than five free-throw attempts per game — he remains an inefficient scorer, shooting only 38 percent from the floor and 19 percent from beyond the arc, while posting an assist-to-turnover ratio below 1.0. If the Virginia defense can force Georges-Hunt into poor shots and turnovers, the Georgia Tech offense will struggle to get in a good rhythm.
For the Cavalier offense, sophomore guard London Perrantes may be the most important player, despite averaging only 5.0 points per game. He exploded for 26 points in the double-overtime win against Miami Jan. 3, but has returned to his more usual numbers with eight points against Boston College and five against Clemson the game before. His greatest impact, though, is in his ability to distribute the ball efficiently, averaging 4.4 assists to only 1.4 turnovers a game, all while adjusting to his new role in the offense.
“I just think you always have to be careful of forcing someone too far outside of what’s comfortable to them, especially a guy with a feel like London,” Bennett said when asked about Perrantes’ recent stretch. “Justin [Anderson] and Malcolm [Brogdon] are aggressive guys. London sees that, and then when the time comes he picks and chooses.”
With the 17-0 start, many people think this year’s Cavaliers could exceed the success of last year’s squad, which won the ACC Tournament title for the first time since 1976 and reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a good stretch last year, and I think we realized how together we had to play to be our best, and I think our guys understand that this year,” Bennett said. “When they’re really playing together, and are sound and tough defensively and putting in the right kind of effort that way — and having a level of good decision-making and soundness offensively — that’s our way to be successful.”
While it remains to be seen whether Virginia will pass the bar set last season, its reputation for playing tough defense paired with an efficient, balanced offense remains the same.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena.