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Wake Forest vs. #11 Virginia Preview: A Battle of Tempos

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A preview of tonight's matchup between the Deacs and the Cavaliers.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I don't want to rehash what happened the last time the Virginia Cavaliers came to Winston-Salem, but it was one of the most dominant performances I can recall. Confidence for Wake Forest was high entering the game, as just 11 days prior to that contest, Wake Forest lost by only a single point in Charlottesville. What happened? Virginia more than doubled up Wake Forest (70-34), and this was without point guard London Perrantes. The defense was just stifling.  What will happen tonight when the Wahoos come to town?

Virginia enters the contest with a 15-4 overall record, and is 4-3 in ACC play. The team has lost at George Washington, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State, with all four losses coming on the road. The Cavaliers are coming off of a pair of impressive home wins against Clemson and Syracuse, respectively.

Virginia, as you may have heard, plays unbelievably slow. They play so slow that the entire Virginia fan base has actually paid attention to tempo-free and efficiency statistics to justify them having a good offense. Their average offensive possession last 19.4 seconds, which makes them one of the 10 slowest teams in the country. What they lack in speed, however, they do more than make up for in efficiency. The Cavaliers have the 9th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country. How do they do it?

It helps that they shoot 40% from beyond the arc as a team. Malcolm Brogdon is shooting 38% on the year, but that's nothing compared to London Perrantes, who is shooting an astounding 55% from deep on 71 attempts! In addition to that, it also helps that they rarely turn it over. They are above average at offensive rebounding, but below average at getting to the charity stripe. Wake played pretty good defense for the first 30-32 minutes against Miami. They are going to need to match that intensity for all 40 minutes against UVA.

On defense, you've probably also heard that they play a "pack line" defense. You're welcome to play a "pack line" drinking game, but you probably won't feel very good again until the weekend. The defense sags somewhat towards the middle of the court and is designed to stop penetration, though it isn't necessarily an aggressive defense. As a result, Virginia is in very good position to grab defensive rebounds, but does not force many turnovers. The defense also typically forces teams to take difficult and low percentage shots, and UVA was top 20 in effective field goal percentage defense during each of the past 4 years. This year, however, they are just around average nationally. They defense also really makes opposing offenses work, and teams average 19 seconds per offensive possession against Virginia.

Wake is in an interesting predicament in this game. On one hand, it's ideal to beat Virginia down the court and get some easy opportunities in transition before their defense can get set. The flip side of that is Wake is very turnover-prone, and tempo for the sake of tempo is not necessarily a good thing. Wake cannot have unforced errors in this game if they are going to win. Bryant Crawford was reckless at times against Miami, and he must be more careful with the ball in this contest.

If Wake is going against Virginia exclusively in half court situations, then it's going to be difficult to get clean looks. The average length of a Virginia defensive possession is 19 seconds (3rd longest nationally), while the average Wake Forest offensive possession is just 16 seconds (51st nationally). They are used to defending for the duration of the shot clock, and they are more than capable of doing so.

Wake has relied a lot on offensive rebounding to help generate offense. Virginia is top 20 nationally at defensive rebounding, so Devin Thomas is going to have to be in relentless pursuit of the ball. Wake still needs to look to get the ball inside to Devin, and also get trips to the charity stripe. By drawing it in, he can then kick it out to Dinos Mitoglou and Mitchell Wilbekin for open looks from the perimeter.

It's difficult to get a true feel for this game. Wake is at home, coming off of a good performance for most of the game against Miami, and has had an extra day of rest. Wake, however, does tend to struggle against teams that are disciplined. I'm interested to see how this one turns out, and I encourage those of you who can attend to do so. As always, go Deacs!