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StLouHoo's Preview:

Payback Time

Boston College Eagles

Virginia has an important revenge opportunity as it welcomes Boston College into JPJ. BC gave the Hoos their "worst loss" of the season last month, and as Virginia works on its tournament resume it must avoid this sweep at all costs. BC's league record indicates its better than the computers think it is, but will that matter as the Hoos defend the home court?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Wednesday, February 19th, 8:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ACCN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -12, O/U 113.5, equates to ~63-51 UVA win
Torvik:Ranks BC #136, predicts a 58-49 UVA win, 87% confidence
KenPom:Ranks BC #155, predicts a 60-49 UVA win, 84% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#11 Derryck Thornton, 6'3" 195, SR
31.7 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 23.9 3P%
SG#5 Jay Heath, 6'3" 175, FR
32.6 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 2.0 apg, 37.8 3P%
SF#1 Jairus Hamilton, 6'8" 234, SO
26.5 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 42.1 FG%
PF#41 Steffon Mitchell, 6'8" 220, JR
31.7 mpg, 7.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 44.0 FG%
C#21 Nik Popovic, 6'11" 253, SR
25.4 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 45.4 FG%
Key Reserves
G#2 Julian Rishwain, 6'5" 190, FR
14.3 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.0 apg, 32.3 3P%
G#3 Jared Hamilton, 6'4" 203, SR
24.7 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 0.9 apg, 32.1 3P%
F#0 CJ Felder, 6'7" 230, FR
20.9 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 41.1 FG%
F#14 Kamari Williams, 6'7" 200, FR
8.7 mpg, 2.1 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 36.8 FG%

 

The ABC's of Boston College:

A) They're healthier this time around. When Virginia ventured to Chestnut Hill in early January, the Eagles were in the midst of a 9-game stretch without their top big man, double-double machine Nik Popovic, who was fighting back issues. Hours before the game, it broke that BC would also be sitting starting point guard Derryck Thornton with a minor injury (missed two games total). Even without two starters, UVA fell to BC in arguably its worst loss of the year (UVA was actually fully healthy for that one as well). Well for this iteration, both Thornton and Popovic are back in the lineup and playing well, forcing the Hoos to now guard a more diverse lineup of scorers. Worth noting that BC's worst ACC performances (losing by 18 at Wake, by 26 at Syracuse, by 19 to GT) all occurred while Popovic was sidelined... they've been far more competitive since his return, even playing Duke to single-digits.

One question mark, though, will be the status of bench guard Jared Hamilton, who's missed the last two games with an undisclosed foot/ankle injury.

B) Jay Heath is gunning for the freshman all-conference team. It seems like no coach in the ACC is better at consistently turning overlooked 2/3-star guards into dynamic scorers than Jim Christian is. Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, Jerome Robinson, Wynston Tabbs, and now Jay Heath. Heath was ranked 281st nationally by 247 last year, but now is scoring 13.5 ppg in ACC play, only definitively outpaced by Landers Nolley and Vernon Carey in the freshman scoring race. He lit up UVA for 17 points in the first game and is on a 9-game double-digit scoring streak. Add in his 38% 3-point shooting and a couple assists a game, and he's a dangerous 2-guard for such an unheralded rookie.

C) They run a bigger lineup. For those who sometimes cringe at the thought of Braxton Key playing the 3, meet BC. The Eagles really only have four true guards: Thornton, Heath, Jared Hamilton, and the little-used rookie Julian Rishwain. A healthy Popovic playing 20-30 minutes at the 5 means they're usually playing bigger guys at the 3 and 4, especially if Jared Hamilton is limited. The trio of big forwards Jairus Hamilton, Steffon Mitchell, and CJ Felder (all 6'7"/6'8" and 220-235 lbs) rotates between the 3, 4, and sometimes 5, providing size on the perimeter while able to defend the paint and hit the glass. It should allow UVA to play its preferred bigger lineup (Key at the 3, Diakite at the 4, good minutes for Caffaro off the bench) without too much tradeoff in perimeter defense. Wouldn't surprise me to see the long Stattmann see good time in this one as well.

 

Their Season To Date

Boston College is 13-13 on the season, 7-8 in the ACC. They had a rough out-of-conference, losing to (albeit solid) mid-majors like Belmont, St Louis, and Richmond. They've been bipolar in ACC play, scoring good wins over the likes of Notre Dame (away), Virginia (home), and a sweep of VT, but also suffering head-scratching losses like an 18 point defeat at Wake and a 27 point loss at Miami. Most recently they scored a solid 71-68 home win over NC State.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Protect the ball. Boston College prides itself on an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that ranks fourth in the ACC in live-ball steal rate. In their good win over NC State on Sunday, the Eagles generated 10 steals (16 turnovers total) to disrupt the Pack offense and create some easy transition offense. Their big men especially (Mitchell and Popovic) have great hands defensively, adept at stripping the ball from opposing big men (Diakite coughed up 3 in Chestnut Hill) and affecting passing in the lane, so the Hoos can't feel secure at any spot on the floor. Crisp, clean decision making will make-or-break the Hoos' offense in this one, as I like our somewhat-improved scoring should we be able to generate good shots.

2) Disrupt the point of attack. The Eagles' offense goes as its guards go. Heath and Thornton are far and away the Eagles' dominant scorers in ACC play, Heath lighting up UVA in January (17 points on just 8 shots), and the two combining for 38 points on 25 shots against the Pack on Sunday. But last week in a blowout loss at Miami, the two combined for just 16 points on 28 shots. Kihei, Morsell, and Woldetensae must give max effort keeping these two out of the lane and off of the FT line. Cole Anthony and Christian Keeling combined for a solid-if-unspectacular backcourt performance on Saturday, but last week the Hoos were able to largely stymie TJ Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb. It will be critical to see how well we challenge this week's visiting dynamic guard duo.

3) Start strong. Virginia was down double-digit points early vs BC and spent way too much energy the rest of the game just trying to get even, running out of steam at the end and unable to close out the comeback. BC also got out to an early 8-point lead against NC State on Sunday which they were able to largely protect. Miami, by contrast, was able to jump out to a double-digit lead in the first half against BC and the Eagles never recovered. Certainly a full 40 minutes are required; BC was able to come back from a 12-point first-half deficit to win in OT in Blacksburg, but UVA should have the depth and defense to weather a BC second half surge, assuming it can use the first half to stake itself to a good early home lead.

 

 

Predictions:

Thanks to your friendly computer-based NET rankings, which place Boston College squarely in "Quadrant 3" territory, this game is the closest thing to a "must win" on UVA's remaining schedule. Certainly we need to tally wins over our last six games, but while we can afford a loss or two on the whole (whether it be to a top-ranked Duke or Louisville, or a respectable road opponent like VT), BC would by considered a "bad loss" purely by the numbers in ways other losses wouldn't.

It's a legitimate question which BC road team shows up, the one that battled to respectable wins at VT and UNC, or the one that laid an absolute egg in Miami last week. BC is playing strictly for pride at this point, maybe an outside shot at the NIT. Sweeping UVA would be a feather in their cap as they look to build momentum and confidence for next year (pairing Heath and Hamilton with a healthy Wynston Tabbs and 4-star freshman Demarr Langford will make for an intriguing small-ball lineup). Virginia will need to be locked in, forget what the computers say.

I like UVA to win this one with its depth. Thornton-Heath-Popovic will do good battle, but at the 3 and 4, UVA can hopefully do some damage with Diakite, Key, Woldetensae, and Stattmann. Virginia's improved a fair chunk since that disastrous early-January road trip when really it lost because it simply couldn't make buckets (39% on 2's, 19% on 3's). Yes, BC has also improved over that stretch (mainly by getting healthier), but the Hoos know they need this one and let's bet on them to get it done. With that said, as the Hoos have played to the level of their opponent (good and bad) for 11 straight games now, expect that to happen again this week. Brace for another tight one.

Hoos Win 57-54