Virginia-NC State Preview
Virginia has a two-game cushion in the ACC loss column with much of the heavy lifting of its conference schedule out of the way, but it must undergo a major adjustment to earn a second straight regular-season title.
A stretch run without Justin Anderson begins Wednesday night at North Carolina State in the rematch of a win that didn't come easily for the Cavaliers last month even with their top marksman.
Anderson suffered a broken finger on his left shooting hand in Saturday's 52-47 home win over No. 9 Louisville. The junior, second on the team with 13.4 points per game and first in the conference at 48.4 percent from 3-point range, underwent surgery Sunday and is expected to miss at least four weeks for the second-ranked Cavaliers (21-1, 9-1).
Evan Nolte and Marial Shayok figure to see increased time, though neither has scored more than nine points in a game this season.
"When you lose a player like that, everybody has an opportunity to step up," said coach Tony Bennett, whose team has won 21 straight against unranked opponents. "But it's going to be a little stiffer or steeper challenge."
Malcolm Brogdon, Anderson's backcourt mate who averages a team-leading 13.7 points, had 15 against Louisville but is shooting 35.3 percent in the last four games.
The win over the Cardinals concluded a daunting stretch that included a 69-63 home loss to No. 4 Duke on Jan. 31 and a 75-64 win at No. 12 North Carolina on Feb. 2. The Cavaliers' next six games come against unranked teams which are at best .500 in league play, just the kind of thinking Bennett wants to avoid.
"I think if we made a big deal out of this: 'OK, we got through the gauntlet' ... and now you take a breath or relax, big mistake," said Bennett, whose team is 8-0 in true road games for the first time since winning 10 straight to begin the 1980-81 season. "If we get tired of trying to do it the way we have and what we do and how we do it, that would be a mistake."
For Wednesday, he might only have to remind his team of a 61-51 home win over North Carolina State on Jan. 7. Virginia trailed by one with less than nine minutes to play, and Anderson scored a game-high 16 points.
The Wolfpack (14-10, 5-6) seem on their way to NCAA tournament bubble status, but another win over a top-10 team would go a long way. Such wins haven't been far fetched, particularly at home, where they beat Duke 87-75 four days after the loss in Virginia. Including an overtime loss Jan. 25 to then-No. 8 Notre Dame, the Wolfpack have won four of seven in Raleigh against the top 10.
But after the Duke win, results have fallen off.
The Wolfpack have been idle since losing 88-84 at Wake Forest last Tuesday, their fourth defeat in five games after starting 4-2 in the conference.
"We've stubbed our toe a few times. We know it," coach Mark Gottfried said. "In this league, there's not a lot of forgiveness. ... The time is now. It's time to step up and get going."
Anthony Barber is already there. The sophomore had a career-high 28 points against the Demon Deacons a game after scoring 23 in a win at Georgia Tech. Barber shot 62.5 percent in those games, including 8 of 13 from 3-point range, after being held to 4.7 points on 31.3 percent shooting in his previous six.
Big games have been virtually impossible to come by against Virginia. The Cavaliers haven't allowed more than 21 points to an individual in a regulation game.
Barber has totaled nine points on 3-of-12 shooting in two games against Virginia, one of only three teams this season to hold Wolfpack top scorer Trevor Lacey below double figures.