The Opening Tip: No. 13 Virginia a 4-point favorite over No. 8 Miami

Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers will be looking to pick up the pieces on Tuesday after dropping a pair of road games last week to teams who likely will not be in the NCAA Tournament.

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On the plus side, they’ll be at home in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena. However, they’ll be facing off against one of the better teams in college basketball thus far in the Miami Hurricanes.

After a couple of weeks of matchups in the ACC featuring the top of the league taking on the bottom of the league, this is the first truly marquee game of the season featuring a pair of top-25 teams. Given that the league currently features six teams in the top-21 of the AP Poll, it certainly won’t be the last.

So what can we expect when the Cavaliers take on the Hurricanes? Here’s a little primer for the game.

MIAMI AT VIRGINIA

Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Opening Line: Virginia by 4

Scouting the Hurricanes: The two things you have to know going into a game with the Hurricanes are that they are experienced and athletic. And those two things lead to the team being one of the most well-rounded groups in the country both offensively and defensively.

On offense, they’re a perimeter-based team that’s led by the guard trio of Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez and Ja’Quan Newton. They all can knock down shots from distance, and the Hurricanes’ terrific floor-spacing allows them all to attack the paint with ease. Ivan Cruz Uceda’s a big part of that floor-spacing, as a stretch-four who is making 50 percent of his 3-pointers. That athleticism and shooting ability is why they’re the 16th-most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom.

The athleticism part of that is also why they’re the No. 15 defense in the nation. They’re long and quick on the perimeter, and they’re tough inside with Tonye Jekiri manning the middle. Jekiri is not only a strong shot-blocker and rebounder inside, but he’s also able to switch screens all over the floor and cause problems for opposing guards. As long as they can continue to do a good job of limiting shots from the perimeter and limiting second chances, they’re going to be tough to beat on that end.

Scouting the Cavaliers: This is strange to say, but the Cavaliers are a better offensive team than they are a defensive team right now. They’re currently the fifth-best offense in the nation according to KenPom, and have scored at least one point-per-possession in each of their games this season. It’s actually a pretty well-rounded group who can get their points in a variety of ways. Need a 3-point shot? They shoot 39 percent from distance as a team. A put-back after a miss? All of Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey attack the glass hard. Someone who can slash and attack? Malcolm Brogdon isn’t the fastest guy, but he’s physical and can bully his way into the paint.

The questions for this team right now are more on the defensive end of the floor, which is a bit strange. It’s not that the Cavaliers are outwardly bad on the end of the floor. After all, they’re 35th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. But it’s not quite to the lofty standard that they’ve set under Bennett. Teams are shooting really well against them, as they’re struggling to rotate out to 3-point shooters. Both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech knocked down over 50 percent of their 3s last week, so look for Miami to try to exploit that weakness with their knockdown shooters.

Key Matchup: Malcolm Brogdon vs. Sheldon McClellan

Any time you can see two of the top-25 or so players in the country facing off against each other, that’s the matchup you’re going to want to keep an eye on.

McClellan, particularly, has had a terrific start to the season. He’s averaging 16.2 points while shooting 55 percent from the field, 41 percent from the 3-point line and 87.5 percent from the foul line. If those numbers seem ridiculous, it’s because they are. He’s one of only two players nationally to average 16 points with those sort of efficiency numbers along with Zeek Woodley at Northwestern State.

McClellan will have a heck of a matchup on his hands, as Brogdon is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He’s also not a slouch on the offensive end, averaging 16.8 points while also shooting efficiently from beyond the 3-point line. It’s going to be fun to see these two face off against each other for what should be a majority of the night.

Sheldon McClellan and Malcolm Brogdon will be a fun matchup. (USATSI)
Sheldon McClellan and Malcolm Brogdon will be a fun matchup. (USATSI)

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