NC State @ Virginia
Line: UVA -4.5
NC State is starting to hit its stride while Virginia is trying to fully right their ship.
Both teams come into this game with a 4-3 record in the ACC. Whoever wins this one will sit alone in 4th place in the conference. For a mid-January game, the stakes are actually pretty high.
The ACC is all over the place right now. You do have Duke, Florida State and Louisville in the Top-25, all with multiple wins over Top-25 teams. But after that, what’s the pecking order in the ACC? There is a logjam of 4 teams with 4-3 records, all of whom are trying to break out and move into the upper tier of the standings. Tonight, one team will do that.
Keys to the Game
- Smothering halfcourt defense
Virginia likes to slow it down and play at a grind-it-out pace that makes you sit down and defend for 24 seconds. Luckily, this matchup is coming at a time where we’re seeing the Pack play some of their most aggressive (and disciplined) half-court defense.
There are a lot of factors that play into this. For one, Bryce is back and he’s one of NC State’s best defenders. He’s physical, long and versatile and he also is a beast on the boards. You also have Manny Bates getting accustomed to ACC play. In the past, if you gambled on passes or really got up and pressured the ball handler, you’d have to worry about the rest of the guy playing some elite-level help and recover defense to stop a blowby. Not anymore. Now you have an eraser in the middle and while the usual narrative is that “it covers a lot of defensive flaws.”, what it also does is allow your guards to really pester the ball handlers, which makes disrupts rhythm and frustrates the flow of an offense.
- A healthy frontcourt
Like it or not, a lot is going to ride on whether or not Manny Bates is able to play tonight. He went down with a head/neck injury against Clemson and never returned. However, while Keatts said he had no update on the injury in his post-game presser, he did say “I decided to hold Manny out after he got injured because I thought we had a good handle on the game.” That leads us to believe that Bates could have returned if they really needed him and if that’s the case then it’s almost certain you’ll see him tonight vs. Virginia. At the same time, there were signs that we’d see CJ Bryce a lot sooner than we did after his head injury, so I guess we have to just wait and see.
The reason Bates return would be so important is that Virginia is a team that is struggling to score it and the only two guys that could really give the Pack trouble are Diakite (6’9, 225lbs – 13ppg) and Jay Huff (7’1, 243lbs). Both are big, long, and athletic and both are guys Virginia has been relying on. NC State could certainly match up with those guys if Funderburk and Bates are available, but if Bates is out, NC State would have to be very careful to keep Funderburk out of foul trouble.
- Good ball movement and smart shots
Virginia is a good defensive team. They like to body up ball handlers, push around the post and throw around their weight on the boards.
Actually, while we’re on the topic, let me walk that back just a bit.
I think it’s funny how fine the line is between a “good defensive team” and a team that fouls a lot. Really, it ends up being that Virginia doesn’t reach. They don’t get a lot of slap fouls (or lazy fouls). Instead, they chest bump the ball handler or use their shoulders to clear out the lane…both of which are fouls, but instead of calling those, ACC refs seem to just chalk it up to “a good defensive team being physical.”
Anyways, Virginia is going to be physical and they are going to bump you if you’re the ball handler. They are going to close our on you and drive you back with a box out if you’re a shooter. They’re going to do all the things that make an offense uncomfortable and they’re not going to get called for much of it. So NC State needs to man up, get physical, and execute. Too often the bumping in the post gets in the offenses head. They get bumped and hit, and when they get the ball they feel they need to get physical back. This usually leads to an offensive foul or an ill-advised shot. NC State needs to move the ball fast, find flashers and make sure they are getting good, open looks.
This may be tough. NC State likes to play up-tempo and doesn’t really run any true motion offense. With Virginia able to sit down and stay in front of Markell, he’s going to have to rely on his teammates to move, cut and flash to initiate the offense.
- Embrace the physicality
As mentioned above, Virginia’s entire game is about physicality. They play great position defense, but they also have a full roster of guys who like to mix it up. NC State needs to be ready and be disciplined. Devon Daniels and CJ Bryce, who are both extremely physical players in their own right, can’t get into a macho-match with Virginia’s guards. They are going to try to bait him often and they’re going to have to stay focused, play through contact and make the smart plays.
Inside they’re going to need Bates healthy and Funderburk playing with the intensity he’s been playing with over the past couple weeks. Virginia will get after the offensive glass, so team rebounding will be big. I think this is another game where you’ll see Devon Daniel play a big role. They’ll need his size, strength and rebounding ability if they are going to match up well with the Cavs.
- Knockdown shots.
It’s simple, but with Virginia’s size and discipline on the closeout, it’s easier said than done. If the Pack wants to walk out of Charlottesville with a win, they’ll need Markell to hit his 3s, they’ll need Bryce on from the mid-range and they’ll need Beverly to find his stroke and spread the defense when he’s in there. They’ll also need Devon Daniels to continue playing team basketball. Virginia is going to try to get in his head, and we’re either going to see the Devon Daniels that has been focused, level-headed and looking to pass when he’s in trouble, or we’ll see the Daniels who when in doubt just throws up a floater. Every possession is going to vital in this one as Virginia is going to slow the pace and limit those possessions. The decisions that NC State makes under pressure will be the difference in a win and a loss.