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Tale of the Tape

By Grant Mitchell | January 28
Bede syracuse
Photo: Bleacher Report

It is finally here: the Commonwealth Clash between the #20 Virginia Tech Hokies and the #8 Virginia Cavaliers.

The two Atlantic Coast Conference rivals have been battling atop the conference ladder for most of the season and will finally square off after postponing a date in Charlottesville at the start of January.

The Hokies will play the Cavaliers without guard Tyrece Radford, who was suspended indefinitely at the top of the week, but with hopes to build upon an impressive defensive performance against Notre Dame midweek.

UVA, on the other hand, are much different than they were even a month ago.

Coach Tony Bennett’s unit recaptured their championship form against then #12 Clemson, destroying the Tigers on their home floor by 35.

UVA remains the only team undefeated in ACC play, narrowly escaping defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech five days ago, 64-62.

The weekend confrontation is set to be a defensive masterclass between the usually stout Cavaliers and the ballhawk Hokies, who have become masters of the blocked shot as of late.

Despite the crowd-limiting circumstances, the inner-state foes appear set to install the latest edition of their epic rivalry in Blacksburg this Saturday.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Both teams score roughly the same points per game, with UVA averaging a slightly better 73.4 to the Hokies’ 72.5.

Tech controls the boards better than the Cavaliers, earning a +3.3 differential per 40 minutes.

Head Coach Mike Young’s squad suffer in the assist-to-turnover department, claiming an average ratio of 1.1 to UVA’s 1.71 (sixth best in the nation).

Although neither team forces an abundance of turnovers, the maroon and orange create 12.29 opportunities per game compared to the Cavaliers’ lowly 9.75 (fifth worst in the nation).

Tony Bennet’s squad shoot 50.4% from the field while only allowing a 41.0% standard, whereas the Hokies post a 44.5% shooting percentage offensively and hold teams to 42.3% on the other end of the court: advantage UVA.

Perhaps the most misleading comparison between the teams lies in three-point shooting. VT has converted perimeter shots at a 33.8% rate while UVA is up at 39.6%. Despite this, the Hokies are capable of getting extremely hot from deep.

Jalen Cone only needs one shot to fall to find his rhythm, an attribute that was evident when he buried five of the Hokies’ 17 made threes against Coppin State earlier in the season.

The Stars

Both teams have three players averaging double-digit points this season, with UVA’s trio finishing 4.6 ahead of the Hokies’ (note: Tyrece Radford was averaging 11.1 points this season, but his suspension disqualifies him from the rankings.)

Keve Aluma has been Blacksburg’s leader for most of the season, headlining a versatile group with 13.9 points. This is Aluma’s first season playing in a featured role and he has responded well, setting himself up for potential all-ACC honors at the conclusion of the season.

Sam Hauser stands out as UVA’s main man, averaging 15 points and 7.4 rebounds this year while shooting 51% from the field and 43.2% from three-point land.

The senior forward has proven to be the Cavaliers’ most reliable weapon offensively this season and creates a matchup nightmare at 6’8.

The aforementioned Jalen Cone, Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor form a three-headed monster on the perimeter, each possessing the potential to rip the net from range in an instant.

These three force the defense to play them honestly while forward Justyn Mutts plays like a bulldog inside, hounding the boards and fighting for every loose ball.

5’9 guard Kihei Clark controls the Cavaliers offensively and is a familiar face to fans of the Commonwealth.

The junior has already played in 81 games for the ‘Hoos and orchestrates their attack, leading the roster with 4.5 assists per game.

Trey Murphy and Jay Huff back up Clark and Hauser, accounting for 24.6 points and three blocks on a nightly basis.

Final Thoughts

The Hokies are dealing with internal turmoil, stemming from Radford’s suspension, but performed well in their one and only adjustment game against Notre Dame.

With an added threat from the perimeter in Jalen Cone now starting for the Hokies, Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma will enjoy extra room to operate inside the lane. This worked out well for them against Notre Dame, combining for 28 points and 23 rebounds.

The #8 Virginia Cavaliers have found their usual rhythm on both ends of the court, though remain vulnerable to continuous physical attacks.

UVA will attempt to knock VT off of their spots and force them into difficult perimeter shots which the Hokies must convert to have a chance of winning.

The reverse fixture favors UVA, although the 56-53 ballgame was nothing short of a war.

The football team did their part last fall, now coach Young’s group must do theirs by winning the Commonwealth Clash.