Virginia Cavaliers

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 28:  London Perrantes #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 28, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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

Virginia's Jack Salt (33) shoots through the defense of Louisville's Anas Mahmoud (14) and Ray Spalding (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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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

Hall leads No. 13 Virginia past Robert Morris, 79-39

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 06: Devon Hall #0 of the Virginia Cavaliers dribbles the ball against Kentrell Barkley #15 of the East Carolina Pirates in the second half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on December 6, 2016 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Cavaliers defeated the Pirates 76-53. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Devon Hall’s offense is coming around after a slow start to the season, and on a Virginia team that lacks a go-to scorer, it’s an important development as the 13th-ranked Cavaliers head into the more challenging part of their schedule.

Hall matched his career high with 13 points and the Cavaliers returned from a 10-day layoff for final exams with a 79-39 victory over Robert Morris on Saturday.

“Devon’s always an intense player and he’s physical so I’m glad to see him have a little success, either a drive and a finish or making a 3 or getting to the foul line,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior. “His intensity and his physicality were key tonight.”

Hall came into the game ninth on the team with a 5.0 scoring average, and became the seventh Cavalier to at least share top scoring honors in a game.

“We do not have a guy you can say, `He’s going to get you 20 tonight, or even 15 or 18,”‘ Bennett said, so the balance is critical.

Freshman Kyle Guy also scored 13 points and Jack Salt had a career-best 10 for the Cavaliers (9-1), who overcame a sluggish start and broke the game open with a 38-8 run spanning halftime. It turned a 13-12 deficit into a 50-21 lead early in the second half.

Isaiah Still led Robert Morris (3-9) with 16 points and Dachon Burke had seven. The Colonials shot just 23.9 percent (11 of 46) and became the fourth team held to fewer than 40 points by the Cavaliers, who lead the nation in scoring defense (47.6).

“They wear you down,” Colonials coach Andrew Toole said. “Once they kind of get that lead, you’re in a world of trouble.”

Jarred Reuter also scored 10 points for Virginia, which outscored the Colonials 48-8 in the paint and 41-14 off the bench.

BIG PICTURE

Robert Morris: The Colonials appear to be in a youth movement with sophomore scoring leader Still (15 ppg) and freshmen Braden Burke and Dachon Burke all getting significant minutes. They won the Northeast Conference two years ago under Toole and have been to postseason play four times in the past five seasons, but seem more likely to suffer through growing pains with their future stars gaining experience than to make much noise this season.

Virginia: The Cavaliers were wise to schedule a lesser opponent for their first game in 11 days after a break for finals because they came out looking sluggish and sloppy before finally getting it together and closing the half on a 20-5 run. They will need to be sharper at California on Wednesday night.

HOMECOMINGS

Virginia’s game at California is the best Bennett could do in giving London Perrantes, from Los Angeles, a game before his home fans, but the senior point guard won’t be the only Cavalier with lots of family in attendance.

Salt, who is from New Zealand, said eight family members are making the 13-hour flight to see him play.

SHOOTING BLANKS

Still was 5 for 10 from the field for Robert Morris. The rest of the team was 6 for 36.

PASSING FANCY

Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins and reserve point guard Ty Jerome shared the team lead with six assists each. Jerome’s came in just 16 minutes of playing time as Bennett substituted liberally and gave his younger players extended floor time before the schedule toughens.

Wilkins finished with seven points, six rebounds, six assists, a block and a steal in 21 minutes.

UP NEXT

Robert Morris is at home next Wednesday against Buffalo in its final game before beginning Northeast Conference play.

Virginia heads west to face California in its last non-conference game before ACC play begins.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils watches as he sinks a 3-point shot against the UNLV Rebels during their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images
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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M

Perrantes comes up clutch in No. 6 Virginia’s win over Ohio State

Virginia guard London Perrantes (32) reacts to a three pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. Virginia won the game 63-61. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
AP Photo/Steve Helber
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The system is the star at Virginia. It’s the pack-line defense that Tony Bennett’s program employs that really gets the headlines by snuffing out opponents’ offenses.

Bennett, though, has some players, and London Perrantes took a big step Wednesday night in establishing himself as one of the most important of them.

The senior point guard was nothing short of spectacular in the second half – especially in the clutch – as No. 6 Virginia held off Ohio State, 63-61, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Perrantes is no stranger to the dedicated college hoops fan – he was a preseason first-team all-ACC selection – but was just an honorable mention all-ACC player last year after leading the league in 3-point shooting and helming a team that won 29 games as Malcolm Brogdon carried much of the offensive load. He’s not particularly flashy and he’s certainly not finding his way to many highlight packages, but, damn, is the kid good.

Especially when it matters most.

After going 1 of 5 from the floor in the first half, Perrantes connected on five of the seven shots he took, including all three of his 3-pointers, to score 15 in the second half and finish with 19 against the Buckeyes. That’s the totality of his impact, but when measured in its moments, his value is even more stark.

Ohio State scored four quick points just after the midway point of the second half to push its lead back to eight after Virginia had briefly taken the lead, having overcome a 16-point deficit, when Perrantes drilled his first 3-pointer of the half. Minutes later, his second 3-pointer halved the Buckeyes’ lead from six to three.

His final 3-pointer was the most important. After Virginia grabbed an offensive rebound, Perrantes launched a shot from distance with just under 4 minutes to play. Pure, to tie the game at 55.

As the stakes got higher, Perrantes’ jumper kept delivering, finding its mark with no care paid to the rising pressure.

Perrantes’ cool was also tested at the free-throw line, where coming into the night he had attempted just four shots on the season. With under 90 seconds to play, the senior strode to the stripe with his team up a pair. Swish. Swish. Lead doubled.

He got it done on the defensive end, as well, especially, you guess it, late. With just over 3 minutes remaining and the score tied, Perrantes played the passing lane, shrinking an already small window, and helped force an Ohio State turnover.

Virginia’s defense suffocated the Buckeyes in the second half, but Perrantes breathed life into the Cavaliers’ offense that was otherwise straining to maintain a pulse at times throughout the game.

With Brogdon and Anthony Gill graduated and Austin Nichols gone, Virginia, even with its system intact and running smoothly, is going to need guys to make plays. The Cavaliers need toughness and leadership. Grit and fearlessness. 

London Perrantes showed emphatically Wednesday he’s the man for the job. 

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels highfives teammate Joel Berry II #2 in the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight.

Here is a preview of the 14-game slate.

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.

Why?

Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.

  • Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.

Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.

Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.

Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.

  • Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.

No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.

Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.

On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.

  • Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
SYRACUSE, NY - DECEMBER 02: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket as Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on December 2, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.

There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.

  • Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.

Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?

  • Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).

Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.

  • Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.

Monday, Nov. 28

  • Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
  • Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.

Tuesday, Nov. 29

  • Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
  • Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
  • Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
    win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
  • N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.

Wednesday, Nov. 30

  • Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
  • Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.