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Jevon Carter, Lamont West lead No. 18 West Virginia past No. 15 Virginia

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For the second consecutive season No. 18 West Virginia managed to beat No. 15 Virginia despite having to play at a tempo slower than what they prefer, this time beating the Cavaliers 68-61 in Morgantown. West Virginia (8-1) was led offensively by guards Jevon Carter and Lamont West, who combined to score 45 points with Daxter Miles Jr. adding 12.

Devon Hall scored 19 and Kyle Guy 18 for Virginia (8-1), which suffered its first loss of the season. Here are four takeaways from West Virginia’s eighth win of the season, a result that will look quite good on the Mountaineers’ résumé moving forward.

1. While we know plenty about Jevon Carter, Lamont West’s progression will be critical for the Mountaineers moving forward.

After averaging 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game off the bench as a redshirt freshman, West is of far greater importance to the Mountaineer attack this season. The 6-foot-8 wing entered Tuesday’s game averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game, shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three. West outperformed those numbers in a big way against Virginia, as his 22 points were scored on 7-for-13 shooting from the field (4-for-9 3PT) and a 4-for-4 night from the foul line.

Add in his four rebounds, and West put forth what was arguably the best performance of his WVU career at just the right time. He did tally 22 points and eight boards in a blowout win over Long Beach State last month, but putting up good numbers against a team the caliber of Virginia is an entirely different deal. The key for West now: consistency. That will especially be important on nights in which the Mountaineer defense isn’t forcing a high number of live-ball turnovers.

2. Kyle Guy essentially experienced two different games, and Virginia can’t afford that.

The 6-foot-3 junior finished the game with 18 points, but things did not come easy for Guy with Daxter Miles Jr. pestering him for much of the night. Guy missed all five of his shot attempts in the the first half, and Guy was scoreless until the 13:53 mark of the second half when he made his first three-pointer. That shot was all Guy needed to get going, as he would make his next four three-point attempts and finish the half 6-for-9 from deep.

Virginia had enough offense to hang around throughout, with West Virginia’s combination of shot-making and stout half-court defense making the difference down the stretch. But where would that game have been for Virginia with a more effective Guy in the first half? A three-point halftime deficit could have been flipped, giving the Cavaliers the buffer needed to pick up the win.

Guy’s been excellent throughout this season; many scorers will have a hard time scoring points against West Virginia. Virginia can’t afford for him to be a “streak” scorer, in large part to the lack of consistent offensive options if Guy isn’t knocking down shots.

3. There aren’t many point guards in America I’d take before Jevon Carter.

There may be guards of higher acclaim when it comes to the NBA Draft boards, but there aren’t many who rate higher than Jevon Carter when it comes to the combination of skill, leadership and toughness. Carter’s fingerprints were all over this one, as in addition to scoring a game-high 23 points he also tallied ten rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

Carter played all 40 minutes for the Mountaineers and the effort never waned, and in him Bob Huggins has a senior floor general of high value. While others have stepped forward at various points to help out as West Virginia counts down the days until Esa Ahmad is eligible to return, Carter has been the constant. He’ll be in the conversation for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and an All-American team nod will be worth discussing as well at this rate.

4. Virginia needs more consistent production from its front court moving forward.

The Cavaliers received good first-half minutes from Mamadi Diakite, who accounted for seven points and three rebounds off the bench. But outside of his 13 first-half minutes Virginia did not receive much in the way of production from its front court. Isaiah Wilkins finished the game with two points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, Jack Salt had more turnovers (three) than rebounds (two) or points (none), and Diakite would finish the game with nine points and five rebounds.

Kyle Guy and Devon Hall are going to lead the way offensively for Virginia, but the Cavaliers do not have much margin for error on that end of the court. Wilkins entered Tuesday averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, and his struggles Tuesday can also be attributed to the play of West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. But if Virginia is to contend with the expected contenders in the ACC, they’re going to need more consistent production from the bigs.

The Cavaliers won’t need the second coming of Ralph Sampson (that would be nice, though), but they’ll need more than what they received from the front court in Morgantown.

No. 18 Virginia sends Wisconsin to fourth loss in five games

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Putting Virginia and Wisconsin on the same floor means pitting two of the most successful programs in the country over the last few years against each other.

It also means putting very few points on the board.

The 18th-ranked Cavaliers defeated the Badgers, 49-37, in the all-too-predictable slugfest between two of the slowest-paced  and defense-oriented teams in the nation.

Virginia held the Badgers to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor overall with a 3 of 20 (15 percent) mark from 3-point range while also forcing 14 turnovers, a not insignificant sum in the slow-speed contest.

Kyle Guy had 17 points and Devon Hall added 16 as Tony Bennett’s team improved to 7-0 on the season with wins over VCU, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island and Wisconsin now on the resume.

Things are going less well for Wisconsin.

Greg Gard’s team has now dropped four of its last five games and enters December under .500 with a 3-4 record.

The Badgers’ plodding tempo certainly leaves them susceptible to ugly final scores. There’s no volume to hide a poor shooting night. Even the 2015 team that advanced to the national title game scored 49 points in a game…and beat Marquette by 11, which makes my head hurt just thinking about.

So the fact Wisconsin struggled to score against a program that consistently puts one of the best defenses in the country on the floor every year isn’t necessarily worth sounding the alarms or even particularly surprising. It shouldn’t, however, either be waved off as the clunker that Wisconsin sometimes just has.

There are issues worth considering here.

Coming into this game, Ethan Happ was shooting 57.7 percent from the floor while the rest of the Badgers were shooting 44.7 percent as a team, including a pedestrian 35.1 percent from 3-point range.

The Badgers’ struggle to find a consistent and dangerous offensive option alongside Happ was on display against Virginia. The junior big man scored 14 points and was 6 of 10 from the floor. The rest of the team managed 23 points on 9 of 38 (25.7 percent) shooting.

There have been flashes of guys being capable of stepping into that role, namely Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice but both are underclassmen to whom inconsistency is probably going to be expected and Davison appears to have a lingering shoulder injury that’s probably doing him no favors. It’s just going to be hard for the Badgers to get enough offense if it’s Happ And Everybody Else, especially if there’s average 3-point shooting and little playmaking at the other positions.

The Badgers also aren’t getting themselves the extra shots they’re accustomed to as the offensive rebounding as fallen as the roster has shifted guard-heavy without another big consistently playing next to Happ. Without those boards that often lead to easy buckets, Wisconsin’s offense is even more vulnerable to sputtering.

The Badgers’ 16-year run of top-four Big Ten may be facing its realest threat yet. Gard has shown through his short tenure that he can right a ship that’s drifted off course, but the reality is Wisconsin is very young and not overwhelmingly talented. There’s a lot of time to get things figured out, but less than in typical years with league play starting this weekend for the Big Ten as a way to accommodate its money grab week-early tournament in New York. The Badgers have Ohio State and Penn State next on their schedule.

Of course, the Big Ten isn’t looking exactly formidable outside of Michigan State and Minnesota, so the Badgers probably have more wiggle room than in most other years in their top-four streak. Plus, their losses have all come against ranked teams so it’s not like they’re getting beat by scrubs nor were growing pains unexpected given the roster turnover.

Wisconsin could be fine, but heading into December, it’s fair to wonder if they’re not. At least by the standards the program has spent nearly two decades setting.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Clemson’s uphill battle for the NCAA tournament continues with loss to No. 19 Virginia

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London Perrantes knocked down a key go-ahead three-pointer with just under two minutes left as No. 19 Virginia outlasted Clemson for a 77-73 ACC road win.

With the game tied at 70 with two minutes left, Perrantes showed why he’s one of college basketball’s most clutch shooters by burying another game-deciding jumper. The senior point guard finished with a game-high 25 points as he led an efficient offensive effort for Virginia that saw the ‘Hoos shoot 58 percent (29-for-50) from the floor and 55 percent (10-for-18) from three-point range.

Virginia also had a strong outing from forward Marial Shayok, as he finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Isaiah Wilkins added eight points and 13 rebounds.

This is a nice road win for Virginia, especially since they’ve struggled in close games in ACC play. After some recent close losses to Florida State and Pitt in overtime, it was important for Virginia to come out on top on the road against a team with NCAA tournament aspirations.

While this win is solid for Virginia, this loss is potentially catastrophic for Clemson’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Losing against a top-25 team like the Cavaliers isn’t going to hurt too much but this now makes four consecutive losses for the Tigers as they now fall to 1-4 in ACC play and 11-5 overall. Clemson needs all the ACC wins they can get as they try to build up an NCAA tournament resume and the Tigers just squandered a valuable opportunity for a good win against a quality opponent.

Now Clemson has to go on the road at Louisville and host Virginia Tech in the next two games as neither of those two games are going to be easy to win. I think it’s safe to say that we’re getting close to must-win time for this team and the Tigers need to fix things in a hurry to save their season. Looking over Clemson’s resume, their best win at the moment is over South Carolina, so they really need to start picking off some of the ACC’s better teams in a hurry if they want to make it back in the tournament.

Four Takeaways from No. 12 Virginia’s win over No. 6 Louisville

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Virginia appears to be the bully Louisville just can’t seem to conquer.

The 12th-ranked Cavaliers led by as much as 21 points and defeated the No. 6 Cardinals, 61-53, on the road at KFC Yum! Center to claim their fourth win in five tries against Rick Pitino’s squad.

Virginia dominated play for all but a stretch in the second half courtesy of their always-staunch defense and an offensive attack that spread the love around. It’s by far the best win of the year for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers.

Here are five things we learned from the game:

1. Virginia is an awful matchup for Louisville: The Cavaliers have now beaten the Cardinals in four of their last five matchups, and it’s anything but a fluke they keep coming out on top. Tony Bennett’s style and personnel is just a nightmare for Rick Pitino’s group.

The famed pack-line defense Virginia employs is especially devastating when it’s unleashed against a team that can’t space the floor with shooting, which is exactly what Louisville has been the last two-plus years. In 2015, when the two teams split a pair of games, the Cardinals shot 30.7 percent from 3-point range while in 2016, with Virginia took both matchups, Louisville came in at 34.7 percent from deep but fired up fewer attempts from distance than any other team in the country. They went 2 of 14 from distance this night.

With Virginia’s ability to eliminate fast break opportunities with its pace of play and its prowess on the glass, that leaves Louisville falling to option D, E and F more often than not, which is a pretty good explainer of why the Cardinals are averaging 50.4 points per game in their last five matchups with Virginia.

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

2. Virginia’s offense can get clunky long enough to cause problems: Maybe they got lackadaisical or bored when the lead got to 21, but Virginia’s offense went completely sideways for 7 full minutes in the second half that, while it didn’t cost them the game, does make for an easy nit to pick.

The Cavaliers turned the ball over four times – two coming from point guard London Perrantes – and went 1 of 10 from the field. That’s a stretch that will often get you beat on the road – unless you’ve built yourself a 21-point cushion.

Still, it’s a picture of Virginia’s offense when things go wrong. Perrantes is a big-shot shooter – he’s got ice in his veins – but he’s not the type you want just going to work time and again down the floor. He’s a facilitator first and foremost. The Cavaliers are an offense-by-committee team with a balanced attack that doesn’t have that go-to guy. Which leads us to Point No. 3:

3. Kyle Guy isn’t Malcolm Brogdon, but he is a bucket-getter: The idea for Virginia this season in replacing All-American Malcolm Brogdon, whose number will be retired by the school this winter, on the offensive end was with Austin Nichols inside. Well, that plan got junked when Nichols was kicked off the team after appearing in just one game. He’s just a freshman, but Kyle Guy might be just the person to fill that shot-making void.

I’m not saying he’s going to average close to 20 points this year, but the kid is unafraid to hunt his shot and doesn’t shy away from tough or big looks. He had nine points on 3 of 5 shooting (3 of 3 from the line) in just 19 minutes against Louisville.

Virginia is built on defense. That grinding style is what is going to keep them near the top of the ACC and a high seed come March, but they’re going to need buckets periodically. Perrantes can score consistently, but Guy is the one player that can score in bunches. He’s the type of player that can win Virginia a game coming off the bench and going wild. Guy just seems destined to go bonkers in an NCAA tournament game this year when Virginia needs him most.

He’s got a role to play – he’s not starting and averaging under 20 minutes per game – but that role is clear, defined and integral to Virginia’s success. Guy is tailor-made for it.

4. The ACC is as bonkers as we predicted: Everyone knew coming into the year that the ACC was going to be awesome at the top, and there’s no indication to the contrary. Virginia’s win Wednesday shot them up to the top spot in KenPom, giving the league the No. 1 , 2 (Duke) and 3 (North Carolina) teams in KP’s rankings, along with Louisville at No. 8.

Given Duke’s strange – and maybe fleeting – troubles, the league race may not be the Blue Devil coronation it appeared it might be throughout the last few weeks. Virginia, even without Nichols, is a machine, North Carolina is among the country’s most talented teams and Louisville matches up better with the 12 other teams in the league not coached by Tony Bennett. And that’s to say nothing of intriguing teams like Florida State, Clemson and Miami.

Louisville's head coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Virginia won 61-53. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley