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Previewing the Virginia Cavaliers

After playing in Atlanta on Thursday night the Seminoles (17-7, 7-3) now face a quick turnaround and play Virginia (12-11, 3-6) this afternoon. Virginia has played well in their last two outings, beating Clemson at home and losing in overtime at Miami. They’re led by head coach Tony Bennett who brought his crawling style of play to the ACC last year. His offense is defined by what it doesn’t do: they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t get offensive rebounds, and they don’t get to the line. They also slow the game down as much as possible and Bennett is the poster-boy for people who are lobbying for college basketball to shorten the shot clock. Out of 345 D1 teams, 4 play at slower pace. Only once this season has Virginia played in a game that even reached the average pace of an NCAA game. Unfortunately, FSU has had only 1 day between games to get ready for this unorthodox offense, while Virginia has had an entire week to prepare.

Despite the fact that Bennett declared in his inaugural speech as the Virginia coach that he wasn’t going to play to stereotypes, that he didn’t want to slow things down and lull the crowd to sleep – he’s done exactly that. His teams have been slow and bad, but to be fair it’s only his second year. It will be interesting to see how many years the Virginia faithful give him to fulfill their imaginings of the Hoos becoming the Wisconsin of the ACC.

So far Virginia has been plagued by transfers. Last year three holdovers from the previous era left the program – Tristan Spurlock, Jeff Jones and Sylven Landesberg. Landesberg was by far the team’s best player, and Jeff Jones was a remarkable shooter, connecting on 44% of his 3s, but none of the transfers were all that unexpected. So after the large turnover and accompanying large recruiting class Bennett had a group of guys who wanted to play for him going into his 2nd season. But then in January freshman Billy Baron left the program to return back his home state of Rhode Island where his father coaches (URI). And prior to that leading scorer and rebounder Mike Scott was lost for the season due to ankle surgery. So, what do they have left?

The Cavaliers start with Mustapha Farrakhan, who was a non-factor his first three seasons, never averaging more than 6.5 ppg, and never shooting better than 36% from the field. Now in his senior year he’s suddenly hitting 52% of his 2s, 38.4% of his 3s, and averaging better than 13 points per game. Freshman guard Joe Harris averages 10.3 with the majority of his shots coming from beyond the arc. Plus, he’s a matchup problem at 6’6".  Freshman guard K.T. Harrell is another 3-pt specialist, connecting on 44% of his attempts. Only Boston College in the ACC scores a higher percentage of their points from 3s.

Vegas has the Noles as a 12 point favorite, while Pomeroy has it at 11. With the short turnaround between games, the Cavaliers ability to slow the game to a crawl, and their dependence on the 3-pointer, this is a game which could likely be much closer. Tip off is at 3 pm on Sunshine.