Canes Hoops begins the month of February by traveling up to Charlottesville to take the court against the #3 ranked Virginia Cavaliers. Coach Tony Bennett & company bring the best overall record in the conference (19-1) into Saturday’s matchup, while also being tied for first place in the conference with the inverse of Miami’s conference record, 7 wins and 1 loss. Their lone loss on the season was a 2-point nail biter against arguably the most talented roster in the country, as Duke held on at Cameron Indoor 72-70. The Cavaliers hold double-digit victories over FSU and Virginia Tech while both teams were ranked in the top-10 nationally. Their last outing was a 66-65 overtime victory over NC State, in which the Wolfpack had an opportunity to tie with 1.4 seconds remaining, but Markell Johnson was only able to convert 2 of 3 free throws leaving the home team just short.
The Cavaliers are once again one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing a miniscule 53.2 points per game which leads the NCAA. Leading the charge is their trio of talented guards, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome. Guy and Jerome were All-ACC selections last season, while Hunter was a member of the All- Freshman team and was named the ACC Sixth Man of the Year. This season, Guy and Hunter have similar stat lines, with Guy leading the team with 14.8 ppg and adding 4.3 rpg and 2 apg. Hunter is scoring 14.7 ppg, pulling down 5.3 rpg and dishing out 2.3 apg. Jerome is just behind them with 13 ppg and 4.4 rpg, but also leads the team with 4.9 apg. Virginia plays a pretty tight 8-man rotation at a slower pace than most other top teams, which would seem to bode well for the shorthanded Canes, but UVA are able to pull that off because of their suffocating defense.
Miami is facing their 3rd straight ranked opponent, and their 6th in 9 conference games. The Canes last outing was their 4th-consecutive loss, a 70-82 finish against Virginia Tech that was much more lopsided than the final score shows. It was not all bad Wednesday evening, as Chris Lykes regained his shooting touch after 2-straight off-outings, scoring 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting. Anthony Lawrence II also had a solid outing, coming up one rebound short of a double-double with 15 points and 9 rebounds despite working through some injuries. Still, the Canes have lacked the offensive firepower or defensive execution to close out games against mid-tier conference teams or remain competitive against the top contenders, as ACC opponents are scoring 78.2 ppg on 47% from the field compared to the Canes 69.8 ppg on 42% shooting. One thing that could play in the Canes’ favor, is that UVA’s next matchup is a rematch with Duke, so the Canes will be hoping to catch their opponent looking ahead.