Virginia

Cavaliers

Season Record17-6

Player to WatchJay Huff

Key PlayersKihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff

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Intro

The Virginia Cavaliers have technically been the NCAA champs for nearly two years now after last season’s tournament was scrapped as a result of the (somehow still ongoing) coronavirus pandemic. This season, Virginia has played well — especially offensively — but don’t have much by way of a marquee win. The offense is potent when it’s firing, the defense is strong, and you have a good mix of experience and youth with this year’s squad. Both Jay Huff and Sam Hauser have legitimate claims to make the All-ACC team, and the Hoos have four players shooting north of 40% from three for the season.

Player to Watch

There are not enough people talking about Jay Huff. A 7-1 center, Huff shoots 68% from two and a 41% from three. Yes, I said 41% from three. He is averaging 13 points and 7 blocks per game in the notoriously deliberate Virginia system, numbers that jump to 19.8 and 3.7 per 40 minutes. An ACC Player of the Year candidate, Huff is a matchup nightmare with his ability to draw defenders out of the paint. You have to respect his three-point shooting abilities, but he can also drive the lane for a dunk or dish to a teammate. Defensively, he is a very different player than Virginia had with Mamadi Diakite, but he makes life absolutely miserable for opponents in the paint.

Case for Team

Much like the 2019 squad that brought Virginia its first NCAA title in men’s basketball, this year’s team is very good offensively. Yes, that’s right. They’re very good offensively. The Cavaliers are in the top-15 in offensive efficiency per KenPom’s rankings, and they have four players — Huff, Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, and Tomas Woldetensae — that are all shooting over 40% from three. Kihei Clark and first year Reece Beekman have been clutch for the Hoos in the back court, and there are good options in Casey Morsell and Woldetensae off the bench. Although the 2021 edition of the Cavaliers doesn’t have the defense we’re used to seeing from Tony Bennett’s squad, the offense has made them much more dangerous.

Case Against Team

Although the Virginia offense has made them much more imposing this season, this year’s defense isn’t as lockdown as previous years. Losses to Gonzaga and Florida State showed that the Cavaliers are very beatable when they aren’t making shots and carelessly turning the ball over against high-level competition. Against San Francisco, NC State, and Virginia Tech, the Hoos struggled from the field, and the defense couldn’t get enough stops when they needed to. That can mean trouble if you’re in a single-elimination tournament. The metrics say this is a top-20 team, but Virginia’s best wins are Georgia Tech (x2) and Clemson. Not extremely encouraging.