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January 24, 2013

Preview: UVa at Virginia Tech

After a dominating performance against Florida State last Saturday, Virginia returns to the court on Thursday night but not in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena. Instead, UVa travels to Blacksburg to take on rival Virginia Tech (8 p.m., ACC Network).

Virginia (12-5, 2-2 ACC) is looking for its third-straight win in Cassell Coliseum against Tech (11-6, 2-2).

All time, the Wahoos are 82-52 against the Hokies but Tech leads the series in Blacksburg 28-17.

Yet, in their last five games, Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers are 3-2 against Virginia Tech.

This game will feature one of the country's best defenses against its top scorer. UVa allows a paltry 50.6 points per game, good enough for second best in scoring defense. Meanwhile, Tech features senior guard Erick Green who puts up an NCAA-leading 22.6 points per game.

How Bennett's defense, which ranks in the top six nationally in six categories, will slow down Green will be a huge storyline. Green has scored 20 or more points in 16 of the team's 17 games this season, including a season-high 31 against Bradley.

Add in that the last 10 games in this series have been decided by seven points or less and it has all the makings of another classic.

While the Cavaliers have held their last five opponents under 60 points, Virginia Tech allowed more than 86 in its first two conference games before keeping both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to 65 each (both Tech wins).

Led by junior swingman Joe Harris, Virginia is averaging 62.1 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field (39 percent from 3). Harris himself is putting up a career-high 15.2 points per game while classmate Akil Mitchell is one of the ACC's most-improved players, posting career highs in scoring (12.3 points) and rebounding (9.1 boards).

Harris ranks second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (46.3) while Mitchell is fourth in rebounding.

The battle to slow down Green will largely rely on a defense that is just now getting its leader, senior point guard Jontel Evans, back the form he envisioned he'd be in during his final season in Charlottesville.

Last time out, Evans dished out seven dimes against the Seminoles and though he has missed nine games this season due to a foot injury, he leads the team with 3.7 assists per game.

Tech is expected to be without freshman Marshall Wood, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward who broke a bone in his left foot during a loss to Georgia Southern on December 15. Though first-year head coach James Johnson has said that Wood is gaining more strength in practice, he doesn't think Wood will be ready for this game.

Meanwhile, UVa's freshmen group has come up big. Forward Evan Nolte leads the five freshmen in scoring at 6.4 points per game, while forward/center Mike Tobey chips in 6.1. Though he didn't score a great deal, Nolte grabbed a career-high 7 rebounds against the Seminoles in place of injured starter Darion Atkins, who remains a game-time decision to play the Hokies with a stress reaction in his right leg.

While Virginia hasn't allowed an ACC opponent to score more than 59 points, the Hokies are averaging 75.5 per game.

The Hokies have more than just Green for UVa to keep track of in this matchup. Senior forward Jerell Eddie is averaging 14.5 points per game while sophomore guard Robert Brown adds 10.2 per contest.

This will be UVa's second game in 12 days after playing three games in six days to start conference play. Tech, meanwhile, had a week off between it's wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, which also came last Saturday.


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