After taking down Notre Dame on the road, No. 3 Virginia (18-1, 6-1 ACC) is set for yet another difficult contest on the road against No. 21 N.C. State (16-4, 4-3 ACC). Tuesday night’s matchup at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., will showcase a battle of two vastly different playing styles.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett is known for slowing down the game and playing possession-by-possession basketball with his packline defense and measured mover-blocker offense. Virginia’s defense is renowned nationwide and leads the country with 52.6 points allowed per game.
N.C. State Coach Kevin Keatts, on the other hand, is known for his fast-paced style of play, applying high pressure on defense and consistently running the break on offense. He stressed this at ACC Media Day before the season began.
“I know we played fast but I want to play faster with this team,” Keats said. “I would love to press some more, mix it up a little bit more.”
N.C. State’s pace of play has fueled one of the best offenses in college basketball, currently No. 7 in the nation with 86.7 points per game.
The Cavaliers, always conscious of mixing up styles of play in their non-conference slate, do have some experience against teams that like to get out and run and press. Against Marshall and VCU, among others, they had to break down a press. Pace of play will be critical in this contest, and Bennett and the Cavaliers must attempt to control the tempo of the game.
The battle of guards will also be key in this game, with both teams led by perimeter scorers. For Virginia, junior guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy lead the way. Both have smooth shooting strokes and possess an ability to get to the basket. On N.C. State, senior guard Torin Dorn leads the way in scoring, and two other guards — juniors C.J. Bryce and Markell Johnson — are both shooting over 40 percent from three.
Key Matchup: Kyle Guy and Markell Johnson
Tuesday night’s matchup will feature some high-quality three-point shooting from both teams’ guards. In particular, both Guy and Johnson are lethal from three. Guy — Virginia’s leading scorer — is averaging 15 points a game, shooting 46 percent from three and has hit 57 threes this season. He’s put up impressive numbers — such as dropping 21 points off of threes against Marshall — and he had five three-pointers each against Maryland, South Carolina and Florida State. He has the ability to get off a shot with lightning speed, and he’s constantly on the move to find open looks.
Without question, Virginia will look to him for offense against the Wolfpack. However, Virginia isn’t the only one with a three-point weapon. N.C. State has Johnson, who returned from a three-game absence due to injury Saturday against Clemson. Against the Tigers, he had a team-high 16 points after shooting 60 percent overall on the afternoon and going three-from-six from behind the arc.
On six other occasions Johnson had three or more three-pointers, and he’s put up performances like five-for-eight shooting from behind the arc against Auburn. Whether or not Johnson or Guy gets hot from three Tuesday night will have a big impact on which team will take away the win.
The X-Factor: Ty Jerome
Ty Jerome has played a huge role in Virginia's 18-1 start to the season. Between his elite passing — he currently sits in third place for assists per game in the ACC — and depth as a shooter, he has the ability to make a difference in the game. Against tough opponents like No. 10 Virginia Tech and No. 2 Duke, he's stepped up offensively with 14 points in each game, while dishing out 12 and four assists, respectively. He's instrumental in orchestrating the offense, setting the tone for the pace of the game and limiting Virginia's turnovers.
Against a N.C. State team that is forcing their opponents to turn it over an average of 17.4 times per game, it'll be crucial for Jerome to continue to handle the ball with care as he sets up his teammates to score. On the defensive end, he's got quick hands, a team-high 32 steals and can make things difficult for guards. Louisville was able to score 37 points off of 23 N.C. State turnovers, forcing the Wolfpack to make some mistakes, which could provide opportunity for Virginia to build up a lead.
The Pathway to Victory: Get back in transition on defense and patient offense
The pathway to victory for the Cavaliers is centered on controlling the pace of play. Virginia consistently wears teams down by making them work on offense and defense. The key to the Cavaliers’ game is patience and precision. N.C. State will attempt to disrupt this rhythm by pressing and pushing the ball in transition, but if the Cavaliers stay calm and play their game, they should be headed for victory.
Virginia leads the nation with 8.4 turnovers per game. Against Notre Dame, Virginia had just two turnovers. They’ll have to continue to limit turnovers against N.C. State to ensure the Wolfpack can’t get out and run in transition. Transition defense will also be important –– even if the Cavaliers aren’t turning the ball over, N.C. State will try to push the pace — and the Cavaliers need to make sure they always have players getting back on defense to limit fastbreak points.
Patient offense is the other key to controlling the pace of play and winning this game. Virginia’s offense relies on good ball movement and gradual wearing down of the defense to the point that good shots come at the end of the clock. This patience will slow down the Wolfpack and allow the Cavaliers to dictate pace.
The Bottom Line: In the last two seasons, Virginia has lost one ACC game on the road
Virginia’s ACC dominance on the road has been unprecedented –– the packline always travels –– and despite a difficult opponent with a playing style that should challenge Virginia, the Cavaliers’ track record says a lot. The first 10 minutes of the game will be key in dictating pace of play for the rest of the game, and the Cavaliers must start off patient, focused and composed, just as they did against Notre Dame.
Also, they must get back in transition on defense and utilize their size advantage on offense. A guard-heavy team, the Wolfpack will struggle to contain junior forward Mamadi Diakite and redshirt sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, who will both be mismatches. Look for Hunter to continue his dominance and the Cavaliers to quiet another hostile road crowd Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at PNC Arena.