There are plenty of words to describe the Virginia Cavaliers basketball program, but consistency has to be at the top of the list. The slow-paced, defensive-minded system that Tony Bennett runs has warranted a lot of success over the years, and it has helped his team open the year 4-0 this season.
Tonight, they will look to extend their winning streak with a Feast Week matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Fort Myers Tip-Off. With the Badgers' early struggles against power five opponents and the Cavaliers suffocating defense, I think UVA is on their way to another non-conference win and cover.
Virginia is undoubtedly known for their defense, and rightfully so, but early this season, they have also played at a high level on the offensive end of the floor as well. The Cavaliers rank 37th in adjusted offensive efficiency rating on KenPom, and through four games, they have a 55% effective field goal percentage, which is good for 53rd in the country.
There are a few highly talented scoring threats on the Cavaliers roster, but the Hoos' scoring distribution has been very even through the first few games. Ryan Dunn (10.8 PPG), Isaac McKneely (10.7 PPG), and Reece Beekman (10.5) are all averaging in double figures, but the Cavaliers also have three more players averaging 7.5 or more points per game.
The Cavaliers' slow play style, which has them ranked 362nd on KenPom tempo, is not conducive to multiple players producing high-scoring outputs. At the same time, their offensive balance makes them difficult to defend, especially when they are shooting 41.2% from three like they are entering tonight.
Tony Bennett’s squad will undoubtedly be a tough matchup for the Wisconsin Badgers, who come into the game with a 2-2 record. Both of the Badgers' losses have come against power five opponents, and for the most part, their early struggles are a result of their defense. Wisconsin has allowed an average of 74 points per game, while opponents have put up an effective field goal percentage of 55.3%, ranking them 309th in that category.
Wisconsin’s defense was a big issue for the team last season, but on a positive note, their new and improved backcourt of AJ Storr and Chucky Hepburn looks to be incredibly difficult to defend. That duo, along with the frontcourt of Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl, has the Badgers ranked 42nd on KenPom in adjusted offensive rating.
Virginia is currently listed as (-2.5) point favorites, and I think their defense will help them control the game on both sides of the floor. Early this season, the Badgers have found the most success offensively from in or around the paint, as they are shooting 56% on two-point attempts. The problem is Virginia has held opponents to a 39.4% two-point shooting percentage and a 38.4% overall effective field goal percentage.
The Badgers have not been able to find any success from three, shooting 29% from deep, so if Virginia can continue their dominant interior defense, it will be challenging for them to stay in the game. The other area Wisconsin has been able to create some offense is by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, but now they’re playing a Virginia offense that is 13th in turnovers per game, so those opportunities to get out and run won’t be happening too often.
Disciplined teams have been tough for the Badgers to slow down, and now they need to play one of the most disciplined teams in the country. Potent offenses like Providence and Tennessee had no problem scoring on the Badgers, and with them ranked 249th in opponent three-point percentage and 303rd in two-point percentage, I think a balanced Virginia offense can expose them in multiple areas.
Virginia Cavaliers (-2.5)(-110)