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No. 8 Virginia: How will Wahoos bounce back after loss to UMBC?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 8 Virginia.


In the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Virginia managed to accomplish the one thing that will ensure they will forever be remembered in the annals of history: The Cavaliers, as the No. 1 overall seed, not only managed to find a way to become the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed, but they did so while losing by 20 points.

They were run out of the gym in what was just their third loss of the season and their second loss since the first week of December, and we’re never going to forget about it.

History can be unkind when you’re the first to do something no one wants to do.

The question that everyone wants an answer to is simple: How does a team bounce back from that?

Virginia is already a program that has a reputation for choking in March. They’ve won three of the last five ACC regular season titles, two of the last five ACC tournament titles and they’ve entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed three times and a No. 2 seed once in that span. In those five years, they’ve only made it out of the Sweet 16 once. They lost as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in 2014. They lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 Michigan State in 2015. In 2016, they blew a 15 point lead in the final ten minutes of the Elite 8 as a No. 1 seed taking on a No. 10 Syracuse team that barely deserved to get into the tournament in the first place.

And then there was last year.

That kind of streak is tough for any athlete to get out of their head, let alone a group of college kids that are fresh off one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of sports.

That said, the narrative of being a ‘loser’ only lasts as long as the losing does. The Red Sox were cursed until they weren’t. Same with the Cubs. LeBron wasn’t clutch until he led Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors. Peyton Manning wasn’t a winner until he won a Super Bowl. Bill Self, Jim Calhoun and Lute Olson couldn’t win the big one until they did. Hell, Villanova has won two of the last three national titles and prior to that, they were Virginia, the team that won a ton of games before getting bounced out early in March.

It is going to happen for UVA.

Will this be the year it finally does?

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

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VIRGINIA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

We know exactly what they are going to be, and we can take to the bank that they are going to excel doing it.

Tony Bennett’s team is going to play their vaunted Pack-Line defense. They are going to be one of the nation’s five-best defensive teams, if not they best. They are going to finish at or near the bottom of the 353 teams in Division I basketball in possessions per game. They are going to patiently and efficiently run their offense until they get a good look at the rim.

And, in the process, they are going to win a whole bunch of games.

The key is that they aren’t just a system this season. There is talent on this roster. De’Andre Hunter is the biggest name to know. A potential lottery pick and an NBC Sports second-team preseason All-American, Hunter is Virginia’s most versatile defender and the one guy that can really go out and create a bucket for himself. He’s an incredibly important piece to what Virginia wants to do. (More on that in a minute.)

He’s not alone, either. Kyle Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and he will pop up on some preseason All-American lists as well. He’s taken over the role in this offense that was played by Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris before him; the sharpshooter that gets run off of screens and who has plays called for him designed to get him open looks from three.

Ty Jerome is also back, and the steady-if-unexciting point guard is one of the best players in the country you aren’t really paying. With his size, defensive instincts, ability to operate in pick-and-rolls and deep, deep range on his jumper, he’s an NBA sleeper as well. Throw in pieces like Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt and Jay Huff, and there is plenty up front as well.

The issue for this group is not going to be whether or not the players on this roster are good enough.

They are.

Kyle Guy (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT VIRGINIA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

The reason that Virginia lost to UMBC had quite a bit to do with the fact that the Cavaliers were missing De’Andre Hunter for that game; he broke his wrist prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.

Hunter is a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s athletic enough to defend down and he’s big and strong enough to defend up. He is the piece that allows Virginia to matchup with teams — like UMBC — who play four guards, and he also skilled enough offensively that he can go out and create a shot for himself, which is not exactly Virginia’s strength offensively.

Against UMBC, Virginia’s bigs were exposed guarding smaller players over and over again, and they weren’t enough of a threat offensively to punish smaller Retriever defenders at the other end. This wasn’t the sole reason that Virginia lost — UMBC played out of their minds, Virginia had an off-night and once the Cavs realized what was going on, they froze up and could never rally playing at their pace — but it was the root cause of what happened in ‘the game’.

The problem this season is that I’m afraid Hunter is going to be forced into playing the majority of his minutes at the three because, quite frankly, Virginia doesn’t have many guards that are actually good. Their perimeter depth as of today consists of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.

On the other hand, three of their top six players are big men — Salt, Diakite and Huff. Diakite is probably athletic enough that it won’t be a killer defensively if he ends up playing 25 minutes at the four, but it still would be suboptimal for the way that Virginia will need to score.

Which is why the key to Virginia reaching their ceiling …

De’Andre Hunter (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

… is probably the status of Alabama transfer Braxton Key.

Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.

Now, Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.

The NCAA has been more lenient granting these waivers recently. Mustapha Heron at St. John’s was recently cleared to play this season. Key is hoping that he’ll be as lucky, and if he is, I think it changes what the ceiling for this team can end up being. He makes that much more difficult to create mismatches against.

(UPDATE 10/22: Key received a waiver and will be eligible to play this season.)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Virginia is going to be right there in the mix again.

I think they can win the ACC regular season title again. Duke is far from a perfect team and North Carolina will be starting a freshman at the point. Once you get out of the top three in the league, the conference takes a pretty big step down. Put another way, there is a clear-cut tier at the top of the league, and Virginia is a part of that tier.

But their issue has never been winning during the regular season.

Hell, they have won two of the last five ACC tournaments. They can win in a knockout setting.

They just haven’t done it in March yet.

And until they do, until they get to a Final Four and make a run at winning a national title, this is going to be the talking point in regards to this program. We’re never going to forget about ‘the game’, but that doesn’t mean UVA can’t give us something else to talk about, too.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Grant Williams leads No. 1 Tennessee to OT win; No. 25 LSU, Purdue earn solid wins

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Wednesday didn’t have a lot of major college basketball action, but we still saw a historic performance from a Player of the Year candidate while the No. 1 team nearly lost in overtime. The SEC’s other unbeaten team was also in action while the Big Ten saw a road win with some implications for later this week.

Here are three things to know.

Grant Williams’ huge game saves No. 1 Tennessee from upset of Vanderbilt

The story of Wednesday night in college basketball is undoubtedly Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams. The junior forward and reigning SEC Player of the Year had his signature performance of the season with 43 points and a jaw-dropping 23-for-23 from the free-throw line to lead the Volunteers to an overtime win over in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Getting the basketball world buzzing, Williams dominated the game down the stretch as he willed Tennessee back into a game in which Vanderbilt was hitting a lot of timely shots.

The No. 1 team in the country will stay that way for at least another game thanks to one of the best individual performances we’ll see in college hoops this season. Williams might have just firmly put his name on the national map for the rest of the season as his star power continues to grow.

No. 25 LSU stays unbeaten in SEC with win over Georgia

The SEC’s other unbeaten team, LSU, also stayed that way on Wednesday night as the Tigers put together a solid home win over Georgia.

Sophomore guard Tremont Waters put together a season-high 26 points, four assists, four steals and no turnovers to lead a balanced LSU offensive attack that saw four players in double-figures.

Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn received a lot of the early-season attention from the SEC, but the Tigers have quietly put together an eight-game winning streak while remaining undefeated in the SEC.

A talented young team with a very good point guard and talented weapons around him, LSU has a manageable schedule for the rest of January before things start to get more difficult during February. We’ll see if the Tigers can keep the winning streak going before facing a big pack of the league’s better teams in a row.

 

Purdue puts together quality road win at Ohio State

In the country’s deepest conference, Purdue earned a very good road win in Columbus on Wednesday night. Winners of four consecutive games and seven of their last eight, the Boilermakers are playing some of their best basketball of the season recently in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards went for 27 points and the Boilermakers fouled out Kaleb Wesson on a night in which they led most of the time.

At 6-2 in league play, Purdue is a half game behind third-place Maryland — a team the Boilermakers already beat earlier this season. With conference losses only to leaders Michigan State and Michigan, Purdue is also taking care of the other teams in the league while creating some potential separation for a lead pack.

A game against Michigan State looms later this week and that should really give us a clear picture of where things stand in the conference pecking order. Home games on national television like Purdue has with this game against  the Spartans are a huge chance to make a move.

Howard scores 23 as No. 12 Marquette holds off DePaul 79-69

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MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard found ways to score when Marquette needed it most.

Howard had 13 of his 23 points — including 11 free throws — in the final six minutes and Sam Hauser added 19 as the 12th-ranked Golden Eagles held off DePaul 79-69 on Wednesday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“He’s kept me up since Saturday’s game every night just trying to figure out how best to keep him off balance,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Howard. “I thought we did to a stretch, but again, his intellect came into play and he drew fouls, which as a 90 percent free throw shooter, he went 15 for 15, which is as admirable a talent as there is to speak of.”

DePaul, which trailed by 14 in the first half, pulled to 56-52 on Max Strus’ layup with 7:31 remaining.

Howard then scored five consecutive points to trigger an 11-point run. Marquette extended the lead to 67-56 on two free throws by Hauser with 3:47 left. The Golden Eagles (17-3, 6-1 Big East) scored 17 of their final 23 points from the free throw line to improve to 14-0 at the new Fiserv Forum.

Howard, who entered first in the Big East and fifth in the nation in scoring at 24.4 points per game, was 4 of 10 from the field — including 1 for 3 in the second half. He went 0 for 2 from 3-point range but made all 15 free throw attempts. The star guard had nine assists and eight turnovers.

“We do need to be more balanced offensively and I thought we were tonight,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I really thought it started with Markus’ passing to start the game. He really, I thought, made a concerted effort in the beginning of the game to share the ball. When he does that, it becomes contagious.”

Theo John scored a career-high 16 points to go with 10 rebounds and six blocks for Marquette. Joey Hauser had 14 points.

“They’re anything but a one-man group,” Leitao said. “They’re veteran, they’ve been around. Joey’s the only freshman that joined the lineup, but he’s very talented, so that’s why he fits in well. They’re seasoned, they know who they are. They’ve gotten tremendously improved on the defensive end, and then they have a will.”

Paul Reed had 18 points and Femi Olujobi added 15 for the Blue Demons (11-7, 3-4).

DePaul scored the first eight points of the second half, pulling to 40-35 on Reed’s driving layup. John converted a three-point play at 16:20 for Marquette’s first points after halftime.

Marquette finished the first half with a 20-6 run for a 40-27 lead at the break. The Blue Demons went more than 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal until Lyrik Schreiner’s 3-pointer with 30 seconds left made it 38-27.

DePaul hit seven of its first 13 shots but went 4 for 17 the rest of the half.

The Golden Eagles were sluggish early, making just six of their first 21 shots. The score was tied at 18 with 6:32 left in the half as Marquette had seven turnovers to just six field goals.

“I thought we got contributions across the board from a number of guys, which we knew we needed, because DePaul is playing very well,” Wojciechowski said. “They’re a much-improved basketball team and program. Our guys and our staff were very concerned about this game because of how well they’re playing.”

BIG PICTURE

DePaul: After a three-game skid, the Blue Demons had won three of four coming in, including a victory at St. John’s and two wins over Seton Hall. DePaul needs to win just four more games for its first winning regular season since 2006-07.

Marquette: Needs to continue showing improvement on the road. After dropping their first two road games, along with an NIT Season Tip-Off loss to Kansas, the Golden Eagles have posted a pair of narrow road victories, 106-104 in overtime at Creighton and 74-71 at Georgetown. Marquette’s next two games are on the road at Xavier and Butler.

A RARE ZERO

In games when Howard has played at least 10 minutes, this was just the sixth time in his career he did not make a 3-pointer. He entered with 72 in 164 attempts, both team highs.

UP NEXT

DePaul is at Providence on Sunday.

Marquette is at Xavier on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 17 Houston hits 16 3-pointers in 94-50 win over ECU

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HOUSTON — Houston had one of its best offensive nights of the season. Coach Kelvin Sampson was more impressed with his team’s intensity and defense.

Armoni Brooks scored 17 points, Corey Davis Jr. added 12 and No. 17 Houston hit 16 3-pointers while beating East Carolina 94-50 on Wednesday.

Brooks and Davis combined to hit nine 3-pointers while the Cougars (19-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) finished 16 of 24 from behind the arc.

“We shot the ball well tonight, but look at who was shooting them,” Sampson said. “Armoni Brooks is an outstanding shooter. Corey is an outstanding shooter. I thought Corey and Armoni and (Galen Robinson Jr.’s) defense and attention to detail tonight was outstanding.”

The Cougars entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They held the Pirates to 32 percent shooting and 2 of 22 on 3-pointers.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said.

Nate Hinton had 13 points, Cedrick Alley scored 12 and Fabian White Jr. had 11.

Houston, which won its fourth straight, shot 52 percent from the field while extending its home winning streak to 30 games.

“We are all extremely confident in one another,” Brooks said.

Seth Leday had 12 points and Isaac Fleming added 11 for ECU (8-10, 1-5). Jayden Gardner, who came into the game leading the American in scoring with 19.8 points per game, finished with eight points for the Pirates. ECU has lost four straight.

“They’re hard to beat when they don’t shoot the ball well, and when they shoot it like that, it’s just a double-edged sword,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.

After Fleming’s layup with 8 1/2 minutes left cut Houston’s lead to 21-15, the Cougars went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to take a 47-24 lead on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left in the half. Houston made six straight 3-pointers during the run.

The Cougars led 49-26 at the half.

BIG PICTURE

East Carolina: The Pirates struggled to find scoring as Houston did well defending Gardner. The Pirates took care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers and held a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. “I thought they did a good job (guarding Gardner),” Dooley said. “I thought they pressured us, and they also gapped us. It shortens the court when you don’t make any shots, and we didn’t make any three-point shots.”

Houston: The Cougars never trailed. They opened 2 of 9 from the field before catching fire and finishing the first half 15 of 22. Houston played well on both ends and was able to keep ECU off the glass, holding a 47-25 advantage. The Cougars continued to pass the ball well, finishing with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Robinson surpassed 500 assists for his career at Houston, becoming the sixth Cougar to accomplish the feat. Robinson finished with eight.

OLAJUWON IN ATTENDANCE

NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a key role in Houston’s run of three straight NCAA Final Four appearances from 1982-84, sat courtside.

TIMEOUT PLEASE

ECU called three timeouts in the first 13 minutes.. ECU used its final timeout two minutes into the second half.

UP NEXT

East Carolina: Hosts South Florida on Saturday.

Houston: Travels to Tulsa on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Waters leads No. 25 LSU past Georgia 92-82 for 8th straight

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BATON ROUGE, La. — A little more than a month ago, LSU point guard Tremont Waters went to the bench for two games.

Since returning to the starting lineup in the Tigers’ final non-conference game, Waters has been a different player. He delivered his best game of the season Wednesday night as No. 25 LSU beat Georgia 92-82 to remain unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

Waters scored a season-high 26 points, making nine of his 14 field goal attempts and seven of 11 free throws. In addition, he had four assists and four steals with no turnovers in 32 minutes to help the Tigers win their eighth straight overall.

“I was just playing basketball,” Waters said. “My teammates and coaching staff told me to just keep playing and let the game come to me. That is what I did. It was not our best game. Going into the game, things were a little shaky. We were able to pull it out. We have to just keep building and learn from it.”

Waters, averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 assists over the last six games, had a hand in 13 straight points by the Tigers late. He scored 10 points and had an assist that led to a three-point play by Kavell Bigby-Williams as LSU extended a seven-point lead to 12 with 45 seconds to play.

Skylar Mays matched his season best for the Tigers (15-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) with 20 points. Naz Reid had 15 and Ja’vonte Smart added 10.

“Tre was great and Sky was great in the first half,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “They bailed us out with their offense. We were able to score at will against their matchup (zone) and their man. We scored 92 points and only turned it over eight times. Our defense looked like it did at the beginning of the year.”

Rayshaun Hammonds paced Georgia (9-9, 1-5) with 18 points. Nicolas Claxton had 15, Derek Ogbeide added 14 and Jordan Harris scored 10.

The Bulldogs made 54 percent of their field goal attempts (30 of 56), including 47 percent on 3-pointers (8 of 17).

“LSU is really good,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “They are extremely talented and (Wade) has done a fantastic job of getting a bunch of young guys to understand what it takes to win, and that is to be so good on the glass. Also, when you play LSU, it starts with Tremont and his ability to pass.”

A 14-0 run early in the first half enabled LSU to take control. Trailing 13-8, the Tigers got two baskets, one a 3-pointer, from Waters to tie the score. Smart’s 3-pointer put LSU in front for good at 16-13.

Marlon Taylor made two foul shots and Smart knocked down a short jumper. A dunk by Taylor gave the Tigers a 22-13 lead with 12:07 left before halftime. Georgia got no closer than five the rest of the half. Mays scored 12 points in the last eight minutes as LSU took a 48-36 lead into halftime.

The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 50-44 less than two minutes into the second half. Waters and Reid made baskets to give the Tigers a double-digit lead. Georgia trailed by at least eight the remainder of the game.

ON A ROLL

LSU has won 18 straight home games — tying its second-longest streak in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The arena record is 23 in a row. LSU has also won eight consecutive games overall for the first time since the 2014-15 season, and five straight SEC games for the first time since a 10-game conference winning streak in 2008-09.

STRONG BACKCOURT

Georgia had no answer for LSU’s starting backcourt of Waters and Mays, who shot a combined 14 of 23 from the field with six assists and no turnovers. Mays was 8 of 8 at the foul line.

LEAKY DEFENSE

In all three of its SEC losses on the road, Georgia has allowed at least 90 points. Tennessee defeated the Bulldogs 96-50 and Auburn handed them a 93-78 defeat. LSU made 50 percent of its field goal attempts (33 of 66). The Vols shot slightly higher than 50 percent from the field and Auburn made exactly 50 percent. Georgia allowed LSU to score 44 points in the paint and 21 at the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers have won their first five SEC games for just the third time in the past 50 seasons. On the other two occasions, LSU won the conference championship and advanced to the Final Four. The Tigers won their first 17 conference games in 1981 and their first seven in 2006.

Georgia: The Bulldogs dropped their fourth consecutive game. All five of Georgia’s SEC defeats have been by double digits.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers begin a two-game road swing at Missouri on Saturday.

Georgia: The Bulldogs host Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Grant Williams puts up monster game in No. 1 Tennessee’s overtime win over Vanderbilt

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Tennessee needed everything they could get from junior forward Grant Williams on Wednesday night as the No. 1 Volunteers outlasted in-state rival Vanderbilt with an 88-83 overtime SEC road win.

Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, played as if the National Player of the Year was more suitable to his needs this season as his dominant 43-point performance had the basketball world buzzing. Finishing 23-for-23 from the free-throw line, Williams essentially gutted Tennessee through a night in which a natural second scorer didn’t easily step up while Vanderbilt repeatedly made big shots with the shot clock winding down.

Not only did Williams lead Tennessee to victory on Wednesday night, it was the surgical way in which he went about torching Vanderbilt’s defense. Once Commodore junior big man Yanni Wetzell fouled out with a little over five minutes left, Williams went to work with a number of quick and decisive scoring moves. Spins into jumpers and runners balanced with post touches through contact that were all seamlessly converted.

And once Williams got to the line, he finished nearly every attempt completely clean — announcers marveling when he even drew iron. It’s only the second time in the history of college basketball that a player was at least 23-for-23 from the foul line.

Although many have placed Duke freshman Zion Williamson as the leader for Player of the Year at this point in the season, Williams is putting up huge numbers for the current No. 1 team in America. On a night when normal running mate Admiral Schofield struggled to only six points, Tennessee was still able to win because Williams got them there.

This is the type of signature performance that people are going to associate with Williams for a long time as his huge junior season continues.