It’s a light Monday of games, but there’s a very notable one between the ACC’s top two squads.
Virginia Cavaliers (15-3) Florida State Seminoles (11-3)
It was a down past two seasons for the ACC with UNC’s struggles last season, with Duke’s struggles this season; it hasn’t been the same without the Blue Bloods.
The true blue blood in the conference is Virginia, the most recent National Champion in College Basketball. The wahoos started the season on a questionable note with a loss in the Bubbleville against San Francisco. Since then, UVA’s only endured two more losses, one coming to Gonzaga. The other was in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
I see this UVA team being the 2nd best in the Tony Bennett era, only behind the National Championship squad of two seasons ago. The shooting of this UVA team rivals the shooting of that one. In-fact this team shoots better. It’s slightly better, not by much, in-fact only .01 better this season. Of guys who played regular minutes, three players shot 40% or better this season; there’s four for Virginia. The four this season are Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff & Tomas Woldetensae.
Huff’s an absolute star, continuing to be one of the more underrated commodities in College Basketball. There’s a path for the uber-efficient big-man to get ACC POTY with how efficient he is on the offensive end, with his elite defensive prowess.
Even with the shooting & defense, the conductor of the offense, Kihei Clark, remains the X-Factor for Tony Bennett. The junior guard has a fantastic feel for the game, true point guard instincts, with elite defense. In this matchup, with FSU’s PG, Scottie Barnes, a 6’9 player that will be on the floor most of the time, could make life tough for Clark. It’ll be interesting to see how UVA adjusts.
That leads me to the Florida State Seminoles, who haven’t lost a home conference game since January 12th, 2019, who look to continue that prolonged streak. Similarly to mosy Leonard Hamilton led squads, the height is unreal, the shortest player on the roster is 6’4, pure absurdity.
The key for the Noles is one of the more undervalued players in the country, RayQuan Gray. Gray’s a solid scorer inside using his wide frame, but his value mainly comes on the defensive end. With the ability to defend just about any position if needed, especially in the paint, you aren’t going to out muscle Gray.
Another intriguing piece in a game like this is wing-man Anthony Polite. Coming into the season, I loved the idea of what Polite could be stepping into Devin Vassell’s role, but the role hasn’t quite opened up in that way due to Polite’s injury. That injury sidelined Polite for four games, with him returning on Saturday against Wake, and he looked just fine with 12 points, the true X-Factor for Leonard Hamilton with his elite shooting ability.
Star freshman Scottie Barnes navigates the offense at 6’9, modern-day Magic Johnson? Barnes is very talented and could be a massive mismatch for UVA’s defense; they’ll likely have to put Trey Murphy on him defensively. Barnes has shown what he provides outside of elite passing & defense. His innate ability to get to the rack and finish through contact is phenomenal. We’ve seen two late-game situations where that’s come in play, game-winner against Indiana, and to send the game this weekend against Wake to OT & avoid disaster. Barnes is supremely talented and looks to display that here.
Senior leader, M.J. Walker, leads the Noles in PPG this season, along with being the team’s most reliable three-point shooter. This is the kind of game where Walker could cement his name as one of the ACC’s better scorers.
Keys to the game:
The Noles struggle is defending the three-ball this season, uncharacteristically. UVA shoots threes at a tremendous clip, defend the perimeter tough in this one.
FEED JAY HUFF.
Players to watch:
UVA: Jay Huff
FSU: Anthony Polite