Surprising Boston College visits No. 9 Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — With the Atlantic Coast Conference season officially underway, most people around the country wouldn’t expect to see Boston College sitting atop the standings.

The Eagles, though, opened with a shocking upset over then-No. 1 Duke in early December, and they face another test at No. 9 Virginia on Saturday.

The Cavaliers (11-1) closed out another impressive nonconference slate with an 82-48 victory over Hampton on Dec. 22. They are 44-4 outside the ACC over the past four seasons.

“We’ve played well,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We’ve done what we’ve needed to do, and I’m happy with what we did (in nonconference play), and I know the tests will come in the ACC.”

The first test for Virginia will come against a Boston College team that some would say is overachieving. The Eagles (10-3) are showing the ability to score and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country despite not having the size of some top programs. Boston College ranked 19th in the country through Wednesday’s games with an average of 41.2 rebounds.

Virginia was last in the ACC at 34.4 rebounds per game.

“We have 10 wins before Christmas, and that’s what you want,” Boston College coach Jim Christian said. “You want to give yourself a chance to get to the postseason.”

Much as in their win over Duke when they were 15 of 26 from 3-point range, Boston College is relying on the outside shot this season and boasts four players averaging at least 12.4 points per game. Sophomore guard Ky Bowman is averaging team bests of 16.6 points and 5.4 assists, and 6.6 rebounds, with junior guard Jerome Robinson right behind at 16.5 points per game.

Boston College is coming off of a 78-73 overtime victory against a Richmond team that has only two wins this season.

“We found a way to win,” Christian said. “That’s what you have to do. You’re not going to play great individually or collectively every night.”

Virginia leads the nation in fewest points allowed at 52.3 per game — 6.4 better than the team that ranks second, Texas Tech. The Cavaliers are second in field-goal-percentage defense at 35.9 percent, with opponents making only 30.4 percent from 3-point range.

Virginia, which has held six opponents to fewer than 50 points this season, continues to get it done of the defensive end.

Boston College has failed to score more than 54 points against the Cavaliers since 2014 and has not beaten Virginia since 2013.

Out of Virginia’s 11 wins this season, only one was by fewer than 12 points — a 76-67 victory over VCU in Richmond on Nov. 17.

The Cavaliers are shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 39.2 percent from beyond the arc and 76.4 percent from the free-throw line. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy and senior guard Devon Hall continue to be the catalysts for Virginia, averaging 16.1 and 12.4 points, respectively.

“I think we are ready for the ACC,” Guy said. “I think practice is going really well for us right now, and we are on a high and we just want to roll with it.”