ATLANTA — Virginia defends like its life depends on it.
N.C. State’s guards attack with intensity and score efficiently.
The two ACC teams aren’t complete opposites, but the Cavaliers and Wolfpack will certainly feature competing strengths when they square off Monday.
The Cavaliers have lived in the top 3 of defensive efficiency all season. Offensively, they’re sitting at a lowly 232nd. N.C. State, on the other hand, sits outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency, but the Wolfpack rank 15th in offensive efficiency.
Led by stellar guards, Kevin Keatts’ team can score the basketball.
Virginia leans on its frontcourt. Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Braxton Key all excelled Saturday in a win over Georgia Tech, averaging 35 minutes per player and combining for 44 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks.
Huff finished with a career high in points (17) and blocks (6).
“That’s the third game in a row where he’s really played very solid,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “He gave us continuous effort on the glass. He bothered shots.”
Huff and his frontcourt mates could have a field day against an N.C. State team battling the injury bug.
Manny Bates, a 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman, left the Wolfpack’s win over Clemson with a neck injury. Pat Andree, a 6-7 graduate forward, injured his right ankle and left the arena in a boot, according to a story from Sports Illustrated.
These injuries came in C.J. Bryce’s first game back after missing four games with a concussion. It’s been a tough season of injuries for the Wolfpack. Keatts didn’t offer an update to reporters after the Clemson game on either Andree or Bates — both of whom average between 18 and 20 minutes per game — as he didn’t have a chance to speak with his training staff prior to his media availability.
“Have I ever had a situation like this? No, I haven’t.” Keatts said to reporters. “I’m hopeful for both of those guys. I don’t want to assume anything. I don’t know what the situation is.”
If Andree and Bates can’t go, the Wolfpack lose depth in the frontcourt. Against Virginia, frontcourt depth is vital.
D.J. Funderburk is an obvious choice to carry the load in the frontcourt for N.C. State on Monday, even if his peers are healthy. He’s played more than 30 minutes in each of his past two games, and he’s averaging 13.1 points and six rebounds per game this year. The 6-10 redshirt junior possesses enough size to compete with Diakite and Huff down low.
If Bates misses the game, Danny Dixon is the team’s only player outside of Funderburk who checks in at 6-10. Dixon hasn’t played more than eight minutes in a game all year.
While the frontcourt edge leans toward Virginia, N.C. State’s backcourt deserves praise. The Wolfpack are led by C.J. Bryce and Markell Johnson. Bryce shoots 41.4% from 3-point range and leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game. Johnson, who averages 13.1 points per game, is more of a facilitator than a shooter. He ranks second in the ACC with 6.7 assists per game. Only Duke’s Tre Jones (6.8) averages more assists per contest.
The Cavaliers need Kihei Clark at his best Monday, which could be a challenge after he played all 40 minutes against Georgia Tech on Saturday night. Clark is averaging 40.5 minutes per game in Virginia’s past four contests. He played all 45 minutes in an overtime loss to Syracuse.
“He has such a load on his plate,” Bennett said. “I think at times, he’s played like a warrior and been remarkable, and of course there’s times that he hasn’t played his best, but he’s got to do that. Some guys have been thrust into spots that we weren’t planning on.”
Clark dismissed any ideas that he may be tired with a quick Monday turnaround.
“I’m ready to go,” Clark said. “I’m only a second year, so I’m ready.”
Staying fresh will be a key for both teams, though, as N.C. State attempts to push through injuries and UVa aims to pick up another win after using mostly a six-man rotation in the win over Georgia Tech. Casey Morsell has averaged just 11 minutes per game in the past four games. With the Wolfpack’s talent at guard, the freshman’s perimeter defense may lead to him earning increased minutes on Monday.
Finding a consistent lineup hasn’t come easy for Bennett, and it might not be any easier with a talented and athletic N.C. State backcourt coming to town.