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February 12, 2013

Wahoos set to host the Hokies

When Virginia opened play in the Atlantic Coast Conference last month, the Cavaliers had three games within the first seven days. Over the course of this season, the schedule has been something to watch as much as the player. Truth is, it's easy to get a feel for how a team will do by how it manages those three-in-a-week scenarios.

UVa is closing out the third and final such run of its season tonight when the Wahoos host rival Virginia Tech (7 p.m., ESPNU). If they want their NCAA Tournament hopes to remain alive, the third-place Cavaliers need to sweep the 12th-place Hokies for the second time in three seasons.

After beating the Tar Heels to open conference play last month, UVa lost at Wake Forest and at Clemson, all within seven days. The next three-in-six came 12 days later, with wins at Virginia Tech then at home against Boston College and NC State.

Now, Virginia (17-6, 7-3 ACC) comes into this rivalry game having beaten Clemson on Thursday and Maryland on Sunday. And in both of those victories, the Wahoos scored at least 78 points. Before those two outings, the team had broken 70 total points just five times all season.

The contrasts between these two teams are clear and plentiful.

The Hokies (11-12, 2-8) are in the midst of a six-game losing streak after starting the year 7-0 in non-conference play. Take out back-to-back wins at Georgia Tech (by five) and at home over Wake (by one) and Virginia Tech hasn't won a game since before Christmas. And its conference losses have come by an average of 11.6 points.

UVa seems to be going in the opposite direction, having lost all of its six games this season by a combined 36 points. The last time the Cavs played at home, they beat Clemson by 37. And the 158 points that UVa scored in its last two contests are the most combined points in consecutive games during the four years under head coach Tony Bennett.

First-year Tech head coach James Johnson may have the nation's leading scorer in senior Erick Green but he doesn't have much else in the way of help. Green's averaging 25.3 points per game but the Hokies as a team are only putting up 71.5 with one of the league's worst defenses, allowing 73 per game. (UVa boasts the nation's second-leading defense, which allows just 52.5 per contest).

In the first matchup between these two teams, UVa came out on top 74-58 in Blacksburg. It was the fourth win of the last five meetings over the Hokies. But Green's 35 points in the loss on January 24 were the most points by an ACC player in a game this season. In fact, Green has three of the conference's eight 30-plus point games.

Offensively, Virginia is averaging 63.9 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. The Cavaliers are led by junior swingman Joe Harris who is putting up 15.9 points per game, good enough for fifth in the ACC. He is also the only player in the conference ranked in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage (first), field goal percentage (seventh), and free-throw percentage (ninth).

Without freshman center Mike Tobey, who is out with mono, Bennett and Virginia have relied on fellow first-year Justin Anderson over the past two games. He was tabbed as the conference's rookie of the week after a career-high 17 points and nine rebounds in the 80-69 win at Maryland on Sunday. He's scored in double figures in five of the last six games

In the post, though, is where this game may hinge. Junior Akil Mitchell is averaging 12.6 points per game, a career-high, and is third in the league with 8.8 rebounds per game, also a career high. But depending on the status of forward Darion Atkins, Mitchell may be the only true interior player available. Atkins played seven minutes against UMd but did not practice on Monday due to a shin injury to his right leg.

Since scoring 44 points at Clemson on January 12, UVa has averaged 67.3 points and in five of the seven games since then the Wahoos have scored 60 or more.

Tech's Green hasn't seen much help of late. Senior forward Jarell Eddie is averaging 13.3 points per game while sophomore guard Robert Brown is putting up 9.2. Junior forward Cadarian Raines is the team's leader in rebounding (6.7 per) and blocked shots (1.2).

But Eddie has scored just 2 points in the past two games combined while Brown has scored 12 total.


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