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5-on-5 men's and women's basketball roundtable: Entering the final stretch

As men’s and women’s basketball head into their final stretch of conference play, five Cavalier Daily sports staff writers take a look at five pressing questions for both teams

<p>LeBron James came to John Paul Jones Arena for Virginia's game against Duke on Saturday.</p>

LeBron James came to John Paul Jones Arena for Virginia's game against Duke on Saturday.

Which game on the men’s basketball schedule scares you the most?  

Luke Stievater, Columnist: Feb. 18 at Virginia Tech. In each of the past three seasons, the Cavaliers and Hokies have split the season series. Virginia won the first meeting this year 81-59 and Virginia Tech has dropped three more since then, but I have a feeling they will be tough to beat twice. Going into a hostile Blacksburg environment will be difficult, and the Cavaliers will certainly be tested.

Brandon Johnson, Associate Writer: The March 4 contest at Syracuse will be a game worth watching. A slept-on Syracuse team has already proven their ability to take down the best after handing Duke their second loss of the season, 95-91. The Orange also have a very dangerous front court in junior guard Tyus Battle and senior guard Frank Howard. This will be a great test for the Cavaliers heading into the ACC Tournament.

Christian Guynn, Columnist: The Feb. 23 matchup at Louisville will be tough for the Cavaliers. Louisville is having an up-and-down season with some tough overtime losses and some quality wins — their victories against a dangerous North Carolina squad and a talented Virginia Tech team stand out. Louisville will come out strong at home and will be looking to make a late season statement headed into the ACC Tournament — the Cavaliers better be ready.

What’s gone wrong for the women’s basketball team this year?

Mara Guyer, Feature Writer: I’m going to answer this, but I’m also going to spin it a little.  Even with a losing record and what feels like a major regression from last year’s trip to the NCAA tournament, there have been bright spots this season. The team’s January comeback against Virginia Tech was genuinely thrilling, and they showed a lot of tenacity and offensive potential in the latter half of that game. Junior small forward Jocelyn Willoughby led the nation in three-point shooting percentage at the time. I think this is an adjustment period for the team and coach — I’m not panicking long-term.

CG: Simply put, growing pains. After an NCAA Tournament appearance last season, it looks like the Cavaliers are going to miss the tournament this year after a disappointing first season for Coach Tina Thompson. However, this will not be the new normal for the Cavaliers. The team is adjusting to a new coach, and she is adjusting to them. Once she adds her own recruits and builds stronger relationships with her returning players, they will be serious contenders for another tournament run next season.

Who or what has surprised you this year from the men’s basketball team?

MG: Mamadi Diakite. I would not have guessed at the start of the season that he would be such an anchor for this team. He was certainly missed in the second half of the Duke game, and the widespread concern over his injury, which he returned from to play North Carolina, was a testament to how central he’s become. His versatility has really improved, and his blocks — especially at Notre Dame, where he tallied four — have made his defensive value clear, along with seven games where he’s scored in double-digits.

CG: Jay Huff. Huff has contributed consistently for the Cavaliers. With senior center Jack Salt lacking in offensive output, Huff certainly fills a void in inside scoring. Huff drained two threes in Saturday’s Duke game, a testament to his ability to extend his scoring to the perimeter. If he puts on some weight this offseason and improves his defensive positioning, he should play an even more important role next season. Look for him to get more minutes as the tournament nears as he continues to show the depth of his talent.

Luke Beasey, Columnist: As an occasional critic of Coach Tony Bennett’s mover-blocker offense, I have been very impressed by the Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency this season. While the Cavaliers still have some strong defenses to face, they are currently averaging 5.1 more points per game then they did across the 2017-2018 season. The Cavaliers are driving into the paint more but are not doing so at the expense of three-pointers. In fact, the number of three-pointers attempted by Virginia so far this year has increased from 19 per game last year to 20 per game this year. With improved inside scoring and continued dominance from beyond the arc, it’s not only the Cavaliers’ defense that is giving opponents the fits.

How can the women’s basketball team show signs of progress through the rest of the season? 

LS: Winning an ACC Tournament game would be a big confidence booster at the end of the season. In reality, the Cavaliers will not make the NCAA tournament unless they win the ACC Tournament. And while we are all hoping that happens, I believe that winning a game or two in the tournament will give this team the confidence they need to build upon for next season.

LB: Unfortunately for the struggling Cavaliers, the roughest stretch of the season still lies ahead. They will face two of the top teams in the nation in No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 2 Louisville, a North Carolina team that has won five of its last six games and a talented Virginia Tech team in a rivalry road game. I would consider winning one of these games, in addition to defeating an average Georgia Tech team at home on Feb. 24, a sign of progress for the season.

Why was LeBron at the Duke game? 

MG: I mean, none other than Alicia “I-have-fifteen-Grammys-and-Michelle-Obama-loves-me” Keys has ever flexed as hard as Mike Krzyzewski mentioning that LeBron texted him Friday night to say that he would be at John Paul Jones Arena.  I think that relationship and the elite nature of the matchup were probably part of it. Rajon Rondo was also there, so it seems to me that the Lakers’ week on the East Coast was the ideal time to scout out Zion Williamson and maybe even R.J. Barrett. Either way, I hope they tried Bodo’s while they were here. 

LS: Despite the fact that Charlottesville has some fine wineries to offer King James, I think he came to witness perhaps the most hyped prospect since he entered the league — Zion Williamson. Even though LeBron may be accused of tampering once again, why pass up the chance to see the NBA’s top prospect in a top five matchup? Also, LeBron has played for Coach K in the Olympics, and they are known to have a solid friendship.

BJ: LeBron was there for one reason and one reason only — recruiting. If you have been following the NBA at all in recent weeks, you know that he is willing to trade away his team if it means he will be receiving another All-Star in return. The Blue Devils and the Cavaliers boast some of the highest prospects for this upcoming NBA Draft, and LeBron was just trying to get a glimpse of some potential future teammates that could help him get his fourth ring.