Maryland basketball hosts Virginia on Wednesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Both teams will enter the matchup ranked, with the Cavaliers at No. 4 and the Terps at No. 24.
Virginia is 6-0 and just won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas last week, beating No. 22 Wisconsin in a low-scoring final. But to get to know the Cavaliers a little better, we brought in Caroline Darney from our SB Nation friends at Streaking the Lawn. You can follow Caroline (@cwdarney) or the site (@STL_UVA) on Twitter, and we’ll link to our corresponding Q&A when it gets posted.
Testudo Times: Virginia has gone through the whole offseason with a historic loss hanging over its head. How have the program and its fans dealt with that?
Streaking the Lawn: Honestly, you couldn’t have asked the program to deal with it any better than they did. The team has been very open about it, which is the healthiest way to deal with a loss like that. It’s not going to go away. They’re going to hear about it (and are ... have you looked at the responses to ANY tweet mentioning them this season?), so they’ve used it to learn and grow. As a sports fan, the upset finally happening is kind of cool. As a Virginia fan ... goddamn it, that sucked. The fans ... it’s a mixed bag. Having a good team this year helps, but obviously the stress starts all over again come tournament time.
TT: How have the Cavaliers’ early-season results compared with expectations?
STL: Can’t ask for better than a perfect record at this point! The strength of schedule to this point is a little behind where it was last year, but there are things to like and things to improve, which is all I can really ask for. I’d like to see an improvement on rebounding (a few have gotten away that should have been easy grabs) and I think Mamadi Diakite can be a huge X-factor for the Hoos if he can settle down a little bit. The defense will be very good again, but may not be AS good as last year’s. Offensively, there are way more options for the Hoos ... and that’s something that we hope can prevent another mishap like the perfect storm that was UMBC. This team is very good, so seeing them execute early has been comforting. While MTSU and Dayton weren’t the toughest competition at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the win over Wisconsin was a really good victory early in the season.
TT: What makes De’Andre Hunter so dangerous on both sides of the floor?
STL: Oh man, he’s just so dynamic. Offensively, he can drive the lane, pull up short for a jumper, or knock down a three. He’s active on the glass (on both ends of the court) and a good passer. He’s shooting 47% from three and has an eFG% of 67%. He’s averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, which is basically 100 per game not in a Tony Bennett offense. Hunter is the only player for the Cavaliers that has scored in double digits in every game of the season so far, and came just shy of a triple double against Middle Tennessee State. Defensively, he’s just sound. He stays in front of his man, makes things hard for them, and uses every bit of his 6’7 frame and long arms. What’s so helpful is that he can defend anywhere from the 1-4 on the floor, and sometimes has given the 5 trouble. He’s like a more athletic and offensively aggressive Malcolm Brogdon.
TT: Which player (or players) that Terps fans might not know well should they be watching out for?
STL: As mentioned above, Diakite is a guy that has such a high upside for the Hoos. He’s got a nice shooting touch, can hit threes, and is a good rim protector. One of the guys I’ve really liked watching here in the early part of the season is first year Kihei Clark. He’s a little guy (listed at 5’9, 155), but he is ferocious on defense and a good distributor on offense. After a slow start beyond the arc (0-for-4 in the first two games), he’s gone 7-for-12 (58%) in the last four games. He started against Wisconsin to counteract the shorter D’Mitrik Trice (listed at 6’0), and Trice went 2-for-9 (0-for 2 from 3) one game after lighting up Oklahoma to the tune of 8-for-13 (7-for-8). Could see a lot of him on Anthony Cowan, potentially.
One last dude to watch is Alabama transfer Braxton Key. He’s still learning a lot of the defense, but he’s built like Hunter and can drive the lane.
TT: What were Virginia fans’ reactions to drawing Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and how do the Terps stack up in the rest of the Cavaliers’ non-conference schedule?
STL: Honestly, I think we all like to see these games as a chance to play teams we don’t see often. Virginia has a rotation going of Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Maryland, and it’s getting a little redundant. Maybe it’s because we’re going back to College Park without getting a return trip from the Terps, but I feel like we just did this ... haha. But it’s a good road test against another top 25 team. They love to play up these former rivalry things, huh?
TT: Complete this sentence: _____ will win because ______.
STL: Virginia will win because they’ll do just enough to annoy Maryland defensively. I’d be a big fat liar if I said that this game didn’t make me nervous, but after seeing how they dealt with Wisconsin, I do feel a little better. I haven’t even really mentioned Ty Jerome or Kyle Guy yet, but they’re shooting well (especially Ty early with 47% shooting from three). Virginia will have to execute on offense and deal with their first hostile road environment in College Park (and I have high expectations for the harassment from the crowd), so this will be a close one. My guess is decided by 6 or 7 points with Virginia needing to make free throws down the stretch.