Notre Dame-Virginia Preview
Virginia put a few notches in its belt through nonconference play and now turns its attention to adding another in a recent line of success in the ACC.
The fifth-ranked Cavaliers begin their defense of back-to-back regular-season conference titles Saturday night when Notre Dame visits Charlottesville.
Virginia (11-1) has won eight straight in this nine-game series that dates back to 1980, the final three victories helping the Cavaliers finish atop the ACC standings the past two seasons. They won each title with a 16-2 record and will try to become the first team since Duke (1997-2000) to win three straight outright ACC regular-season championships.
Virginia feels it is primed for a three-peat after a nonconference slate that included a Charleston Classic championship and consecutive wins over ranked West Virginia and Villanova teams last month.
"We've been saying from the jump that it was going to help us," point guard London Perrantes told the team's official website. "We've had some tough games compared to the last two years that I've been here, and we want to play in those games."
The lone blemish was a 73-68 loss at George Washington on Nov. 16, Virginia's first defeat to an unranked nonconference opponent since December 2013.
"We needed that loss at GW," forward Isaiah Wilkins said. "I feel like it made us realize that we needed to work on a lot of things."
Virginia rebounded with 10 straight wins, including Wednesday's 71-58 victory over Oakland - the Cavaliers' 32nd win in their last 33 home games. Anthony Gill scored 17 points and is averaging 19.0 in the last four games on 66.7 percent shooting. Seven-footer Mike Tobey, who began the season starting at center, added 16 points off the bench after totaling six over the previous four games in limited minutes.
After opening the season shooting 26.3 percent from 3-point range in a win and a loss, the Cavaliers have since shot 45.5 percent - third-best in the nation in that span. Perrantes has hit 21 of 37 this season, and leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is 8 for 16 in the last three games while going 1 for 18 inside the arc.
Notre Dame (9-3) has allowed opponents to shoot 38.7 percent from 3-point range - worst among ACC teams - but held Liberty to 4 of 20 in Tuesday's 73-56 win. That game was a preview of sorts for the conference opener as the Flames are coached by Virginia's associate head coach from last season, Ritchie McKay.
''It was kind of nice to be able to talk about some Virginia-type stuff and see some of it,'' Irish coach Mike Brey said.
The difference is that Virginia features one of the best defenses in the nation, allowing 59.1 points per game, while Liberty falls somewhere in the middle at 68.1. The Cavaliers led the country last season in points allowed (51.5 per game) while leading the ACC in opponents' field-goal percentage (36.7).
Virginia is currently among the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.73, turnover margin at 4.8 and effective field-goal percentage at 55.6. Liberty doesn't rank any higher than 90th in the country in any of those categories.
Still, Notre Dame won for the fifth time in six games, and Steve Vasturia found his shooting touch. The junior sharpshooter combined for 11 points in the previous two games while missing all eight of his 3-point attempts. He made 2 of 4 from deep and 5 of 7 overall en route to 17 points against Liberty.
"I'm a firm believer in the law of averages with a guy like that," Brey said.