ACC Basketball

Cavaliers Visit the Cardinals

(Photo: Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

The Virginia Cavaliers are riding a nine-winning streak, including seven without Justin Anderson, who has been out with a fractured finger. He was expected to return for this game, but then he had an appendectomy on Thursday and is officially out again this Saturday.

Louisville is just 4-4 in their last eight and the KFC Yum! Center has been anything but a home court advantage, as the Cardinals have lost four games at home. Granted, all four were good teams going to the tournament (Kentucky, Duke, NC State and Notre Dame). But guess what Virginia is…a good team.

Back on February 7 in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers held Louisville to just 13 points in the first half, opening up a 13-point lead at the midway point in the second period, before a late rally by the Cardinals got them back within six. Yet, Virginia wrapped it up with some free throws and walked away with a 52-47 victory. Montrzl Harrell scored 12 on eight shots, but Terry Rozier’s shooting slump began that day as he hit just 5-16 from the floor. Malcolm Brogdon had 15 points and London Perrantes dished out six assists to just one turnover, but the one significant thing to come out of this game was the fact that Justin Anderson broke his finger that day.

The Cavaliers have struggled to put the ball in the baskets since losing their top scorer, but they’ve made up for it with great defense. Against Syracuse the other day, Virginia had just two points 13 minutes into the gam, yet still walked away with a double-digit road win. Since losing Anderson, this team has allowed just 16.9 baskets per game, holding teams to 34.7% shooting from the field.

On offense, Tony Bennett can get points from a variety of sources, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill are the two who have shouldered the load lately. Brogdon hasn’t been lightening it up from deep, but against the Orange, he lowered his should and split the zone to get easy buckets in the lane. With his frame, that’s how he should be trying to get his points against a undersized Cardinals back court. Meanwhile, Gill has been an opportunistic scorer all season long, but he’s become more aggressive inside, willing to take on his defender one-on-one for points.

The Cardinals offense has been anything but pretty lately. Montrezl Harrell remains Louisville’s heart and soul. He’s a beast inside, not afraid to challenge a double team and he always seems to be where the ball goes on rebounds. He’s smart with the ball, which will matter against Virginia’s pack-line defense. However, as we said against Notre Dame on Wednesday, he can’t do it alone.

Wayne Blackshear has four straight double-digit games, having just four in his previous ACC games. The senior has begun to use his athleticism and length to challenge defenders to the rim, instead of camping out on the three-line, but still has a tendency to disappear for stretches.

However, the trick to beating Cavaliers is to rain threes, the one thing Louisville can’t really do. Replacing Chris Jones, Quentin Jones simply can’t do what Jones could do and is not a threat from deep. He’s just 3-for-10 in his last four games and trust me, most of those misses were open shots.

Normally I’d say Terry Rozier needs to take over, but I don’t see that happening as he continues through a horrid scoring slump. Sure, in his last eight games he’s averaged 13.9 PPG, but he’s had to take 15.5 shots per game to do that. He’s just 38-for-124 in his last eight (30.6%), hitting just 23.5% from deep. It’s just hard to see how he breaks out of that slump with Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC’s top on-ball defender, blanketing him all game long.

While it’s not like Virginia will shoot lights out, the one thing they do well is hold onto the ball. Yes, they turned it over 19 times in their last game against Syracuse, but you can bet that Tony Bennet will make sure that doesn’t happen again, which is bad news for Louisville. The Cardinals thrive when they get steals, but when they can’t, they lose. In their previous meeting back, the Cavaliers turned it over just two times.


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