No. 12 Virginia (16-3, 6-2 ACC) heads over to Philadelphia to take on No. 1 Villanova (19-2, 7-2 Big East) in the second part of a home-and-home series between the two teams. The Wildcats will be looking to bounce back, as they are bound to lose their status of being ranked No. 1 once again, after a stunning upset loss by Marquette on Tuesday.
As for the Cavaliers, they are looking to build on their five-game winning streak, as they take a quick break from conference play.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game Time: Sunday, January 29, 2017, at 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson, Shannon Spake)
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go (where available)
Villanova is listed as a 5-point favorite, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Cavaliers lead the all-time series, 5-2, over the Wildcats. Virginia won the last meeting, as it bested Villanova last season at the John Paul Jones Arena in the first leg of the home-and-home series. The Cavaliers won that Dec. 19, 2015 showdown, 86-75.
What to Watch For
Tony Bennett is a defensive mastermind. Since taking over in 2009, his Cavaliers squads have been known for their lockdown, elite defense. When running these hard-nosed, high-intensity defensive schemes, it certainly helps having fresh legs and depth. Virginia uses a deep rotation that features 10 different players who have played in every single one of the Cavaliers' 19 games thus far. Bennett has all types of players, from freshmen to seniors, doing their part in making this defense-oriented machine run. So far, so good--according to KenPom, Virginia has the third-highest defensive efficiency rating in the country.
This depth also helps on the offensive end of the court. The Cavaliers no longer have stars or go-to players like Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, but they make it work by spreading the ball around. London Perrantes remains to be a perimeter threat and leads the team with just over 12 points per game. Overall, as a team, the Cavaliers seemingly don't impress with their offensive numbers or their pure points per game statistics. However, when you factor in that this is a patient, slow-working half court offense and that the damage is spread across the board, the Cavaliers quietly have one of the most efficient offenses around. They shoot over 40 percent from deep, rarely turn the ball over, and rank within the top 20 in offensive efficiency (per KenPom).
Virginia's deep rotation is one of its keys to success and will spell trouble for Villanova. The Wildcats are running a 7-man rotation and as evidenced on Tuesday, will have a big problem if someone's in foul trouble. The Cavaliers may not light up the scoreboard, but when you're piling on victories in the win column and holding opponents to a Division I best 53.3 points per game--it doesn't matter as much anymore.
Reevaluating the Game Plan
The Wildcats were ice cold from beyond the arc in their last appearance on Tuesday and that was one area that led to their demise against Marquette. Villanova shot an uncharacteristic 6-of-34 (17.6 percent) from deep. While some may just chalk it up to an off-night, Marquette is known for its offense and scoring, not so much its defense. What's going to happen when Villanova faces off against one of the premier defenses in the nation?
Approximately 50 percent of Villanova's shot attempts were from long range. When the threes aren't falling, can the Wildcats adjust and take the ball inside as opposed to hoping to shoot their way out of a cold spell?
This stingy Virginia defense is looking to capitalize and punish opponents for their mistakes on the offensive end, whether it be forcing an ill-advised shot, shooting too early in the shot clock, or turning the ball over, the Cavaliers will provide an even tougher defensive effort than Marquette. Villanova struggled against the Golden Eagles in the second half, it cannot afford to suffer a poor offensive performance once again.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Both teams have lost major pieces from last season. Virginia graduated three contributors from last season’s 86-75 win over Villanova, a trio that accounted for over half of the Cavaliers’ points in that game—Gill (22 points), Brogdon (20), and Mike Tobey (2). However, they do bring back Perrantes, who gashed the Wildcats for 19 points, and Darius Thompson, who shot a perfect 4-of-4 en route to an 11 point game.
As for Villanova, it no longer has Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. As important as the Arcidiacono-Ochefu tandem was to Villanova in its title run last season, the two only combined for 21 of the Wildcats’ 75 points in the loss. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart enjoyed solid performances, as they accounted for 35 points altogether.
Overall, both teams have graduated a handful of players but also bring back a lot of familiar faces. It will be interesting to see how this year’s matchup will go for either team and who steps up.