NO. 21 VIRGINIA (16-3, 3-2 ACC) AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE (15-6, 4-2 ACC)
Time/TV: 8 p.m./ESPN2
Location: RBC Center
Virginia 53 (No. 4 ACC)
North Carolina State 55 (No. 5 ACC)
Line: North Carolina State -2.5 (O/U 122)
Virginia Players to Watch: F Mike Scott, 6-8 Sr. (16.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 57.8% FG); G Joe Harris, 6-6 So. (12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 34.7% 3s); G Sammy Zeglinski, 6-1 Sr. (8.9 ppg, 2.6 apg, 36.8% 3s). Zeglinski ranks sixth in Virginia history with 178 career 3-pointers made. He is fourth in the ACC in 3-point shooting and sixth in 3-pointers made with 35 this season.
North Carolina State Players to Watch: F C.J. Leslie, 6-8 So. (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 53.5% FG); G Lorenzo Brown, 6-5 So. (12.4 ppg, 6.9 apg, 4.3 rpg); F Scott Wood, 6-6 Jr. (13.3 ppg, 45.3% 3s, 100% FT). After making all seven of his free throws in Sunday’s win over Miami, Wood is 48-for-48 at the foul line this season.
Storylines: N.C. State’s 3-game winning streak came to an end Thursday at North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat the Wolfpack 74-55 to drop them to 4-2 in the ACC. Still, they are just a game back of co-leaders Duke and Florida State in the conference at 4-2. The Cavaliers bounced back from Sunday’s tough 47-45 home loss to rival Virginia Tech with a 66-49 win over Boston College. The win over the Eagles gives Virginia 16 victories on the year, equaling last year’s season total. At 3-2, UVa is fifth in league play. Its 16-3 start is the best since it went 27-3 in its first 30 games in the 1982-83 season.
Keys: Virginia’s 7-foot center Assane Sene had ankle surgery on Jan. 20 and is expected to be out at least six weeks. The Cavaliers are 1-1 without him. Akil Mitchell has started in his place and has 12 points in six boards in two games in his stead. This game may be determined by which team can establish the pace it prefers. The Wolfpack would prefer to run. For Virginia, the slower the pace the better. NC State has allowed its last four opponents to make just 18 of 83 (21.7 percent) from the 3-point line. Virginia has the best defense in the ACC, at least defensively. The Cavaliers are second in the nation, allowing only 50.1 points per game (Wisconsin is first with 49.6), and they’re seventh in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 26.9 percent from deep and 20th in field goal defense at 38.7 percent. The Wolfpack are averaging 77 points and shooting 47.7 percent from the field, but they shot just 36.8 percent in the loss to UNC. The Cavs have held nine opponents, including their last three, under 50 points. They’re the first team in the shot clock era an ACC team has held three consecutive conference opponents under 50. Virginia leads the nation in defensive rebounding percentage at 77.5 percent. Opponents are scoring just 6.1 points per game on second-chance opportunities. Virginia is unbeaten when shooting better than 40 percent from the field this season. Saturday’s game is the third in six days for both teams. With four ACC wins, the Wolfpack are one away from last year’s total for the season. NC State is second in the conference with a 74.4 free throw percentage. The Wolfpack are third in the ACC – behind UNC and Duke – scoring 75.9 points per game. All five Wolfpack starters average at least 11.7 points and are in the top 25 in the ACC in scoring. The Cavs are 4-1 in true road games this season. Their lone road loss came at Duke, 61-58 on Jan. 12. A win would give them their most true road victories since 2000-01. The Wolfpack are 12-4 at home seven of their last eight at the RBC Center. Virginia has beaten the Wolfpack three straight times, including 69-58 in last year’s only meeting in Charlottesville, and six of the last eight meetings, but NC State leads the all-time series 80-57, including 41-19 in Raleigh.
The Bottom Line: This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the day. It really could go either way. After last week’s poor performance against Virginia Tech, expect the Cavs’ D to lead them to a tight win. They’ve been awfully good on the road. The best advice: stay away from the over/under.
The Pick: Virginia 63, North Carolina State 60