WHO: Virginia Cavaliers (5-2)
WHEN: 6:00 PM CT (Monday, November 29)
WHERE: John Paul Jones Arena (Charlottesville, VA)
TV: ESPN2 (Anish Shroff and Cory Alexander)
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 195 (?)
MOBILE: ESPN app
TWITTER: @IowaHoops | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
LINE: Virginia -2 (TOTAL: 130)
KENPOM: Iowa -1 (52% win probability)
Hark, an opponent with a pulse! After six straight home games and six consecutive games against opponents near the bottom of the KenPom rankings, Monday night's game represents a definite change of pace for the Hawkeyes. One, it's not within the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena; for the first time all season Iowa is headed on the road -- and to John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA, no less. The home of the Virginia Cavaliers is not exactly one of the most hospitable locales for visiting teams. Two, this ain't a KenPom cellar dweller -- this is Virginia, who won an NCAA championship back in 2.5 years ago.
That said, this isn't that world-beater Virginia squad -- not yet, at least. They rank just 47th in KenPom and they enter this game already boasting two losses, including a stunning 66-58 defeat at home to Navy and a 20-point road drubbing at the hands of Houston. It's worth noting that those games were at least two weeks ago (the Navy loss was UVA's season opener and almost three weeks ago), and they've begun to look a bit more like a traditional Virginia squad since. They've rattled off four consecutive wins since the Houston loss, all by double digits and headlined by a 58-40 strangulation of Providence on a neutral court a week ago. They had some early season hiccups but they seem to be rounding into form lately.
As usual, the Cavaliers play a glacially slow brand of basketball; they have the slowest tempo in the sport and their average possession lengths on offense and defense are among the longest in Division I. Considering that Iowa has had the 23rd fastest tempo in college basketball this season and the third-shortest average possession length on offense (just 14 seconds), this game will be a battle of contrasting styles and some real oil meets water shit.
On defense, Virginia is very good, but not quite as elite as they were a few years back. They rank 25th nationally in defensive efficiency and 30th in eFG%. They've been especially good at contesting 2-point attempts, holding opponents to just 42% on 2FG%. They're also allowing opponents ot make just 29.9% of their 3-point tries, so they're not exactly bad beyond the perimeter, either. They're forcing opponents to turn the ball over almost 22% of their possessions, which is a very healthy rate, though they do allow opponents to grab almost 30% of their offensive rebounds. That could be a key area for Iowa, given Keegan Murray's proficiency around the rim and at put-backs.
Virginia is 97th in offensive efficiency, but just 228th in eFG% (47.4). They simply are not a good shooting team this year; they're making just 47% of their 2-point tries (234th) and 33% of their 3-point attempts (208th). Then again, we've also seen cold-shooting teams suddenly turn into sharpshooters against Iowa, so we're not going to too far ahead of ourselves on that stat. Virginia does get to the free throw line a lot (49th best rate nationally), but they also give up a lot of steals (12%, 306th nationally).
The star man for Virginia so far this year has been F Jayden Gardner (6'6", 246); he's leading the team in scoring (13.4 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg), and FG percentage (53%). Two other Cavaliers, G Armaan Franklin (6'4", 204) and G Kihei Clark (5'10", 172) are also averaging double figures in scoring at 13.0 ppg and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Clark has also been Virginia's best 3-point shooter, albeit at just 38% on the season. In addition to those four, G Reece Beekman (6'3", 181) leads the team in assists (4.3 apg) and steals (2.9 spg), so he'll be a dangerous guy to watch in the back court.
Vegas has Virginia as just a two-point favorite at home, while KenPom has Iowa as a favorite, albeit extremely narrowly (by a single point and with a 52% win probability). For all intents and purposes, this game is a toss-up in the eyes of analysts; that's not what I would have expected from this game before the season began and it probably speaks to the fact that Iowa has looked a bit better than expected this year while Virginia has looked a bit weaker than expected. That said, Virginia is a quantum leap upwards in competition from the teams that Iowa has faced thus far. And it's on the road. And they're playing a style that is diametrically opposed to Iowa's own style and extremely difficult to play against. This figures to be a very, very difficult game for Iowa. But we should learn a lot more about just how real their fast start to the season has been.