By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Richard Howell is a double-double machine. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are future NBA first-round picks. Scott Wood’s shooting range extends to midcourt, it seems, and Rodney Purvis is a former McDonald’s All-American who has been as good as advertised as a college freshman.
A reporter suggested Monday to UVa assistant coach Jason Williford that NC State’s first five might be as talented as any in Division I men’s basketball.
“First six,” said Williford, who prepared Virginia’s scouting report on the Wolfpack. “T.J. Warren comes off the bench.”
Warren, a 6-8 freshman, averages 12.6 points in about 25 minutes per game. Of the Wolfpack’s top six players, only the 6-3 Purvis is not averaging at least 10 points, and he’s at 9.8.
“I can’t imagine there’s another team in the country with a lineup like that,” Williford said.
Can the Wahoos handle the Pack? We’ll find out Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena, where UVa (14-5, 4-2) meets No. 19 NC State (16-4, 5-2) in an ACC game that ESPN2 is televising nationally.
Howell, Leslie, Brown and Wood led the Wolfpack to the third round of last season’s NCAA tournament. Virginia went 1-1 against that State team, winning the regular-season game 61-60 in Raleigh, N.C., and losing 67-64 in the ACC tournament at Atlanta.
This State team has already defeated Connecticut, Duke and, most recently, North Carolina. Asked how the 2012-13 Wolfpack differ from last season’s edition, Williford said, “I think Lorenzo Brown’s better. I think he’s more aggressive, especially in transition. He’s not only looking to score, but looking to find guys, especially Wood spotting up for 3s, and he’ll reward the bigs for running the floor.”
Williford also pointed to the Pack’s experience. “I think they’re just another year older, another year wiser, and then they’ve got two really good freshmen in Purvis and T.J. Warren.”
Contrasting styles will be on display Tuesday night at JPJ, and that’s fine with UVa senior point guard Jontel Evans. He knows NC State (79.8 ppg) ranks first among ACC teams in scoring offense and that UVa (62.8) is last. At the other end, the Cavaliers are allowing a league-low 51.1 points per game. Only Virginia Tech (74.3) is giving up more points than NC State (70.2) among ACC teams.
Evans remembers what happened when North Carolina visited JPJ early this month. The `Hoos held the Heels to 52 points — still a season low for Roy Williams’ club — and won by nine.
“I kind of like playing against teams that like to run,” Evans said. “Our style is to slow people down, slow the game down and go at our own tempo. And when we do that, teams that like to run, they get out of sorts and they start panicking and get out of their system, and a lot of bad things start happening to them.”
Still, disrupting the Pack’s offensive rhythm won’t be easy, even for a team as formidable defensively as UVa.
“All those guys are athletic, they can really score the ball, and they’re really aggressive and physical,” Evans said. “It’s going to be a tough job guarding those guys.”
UVa has won three straight games, by an average margin of 16.7 points, since losing by 15 to Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum. For the `Hoos to extend their winning streak to four, Williford said, they must limit the Pack’s fast-break opportunities and keep the Pack from controlling the backboards.
Howell, a 6-8, 257-pound senior, is averaging 11.1 rebounds, second only to Duke’s Mason Plumlee (11.2) among ACC players. Brown leads the ACC in assists, at 7.2 per game, and many of those passes have come in transition.
“For us, it’s always about transition defense and then rebounding,” Williford said. “We’ve got to somehow keep Howell off the boards and Leslie off the boards and even Warren.
“And then transition is always a staple. Don’t give them anything easy. And then I think that’ll help us offensively if we can move `em and not quick-shoot and settle for early shots or first-side shots. If we can move `em around, bang `em with some screens and just ball movement, people movement, I think that’ll help us. It’ll slow them down, having to defend a little bit.”
After the Pack upset then-No. 1 Duke 84-76 on Jan. 12, Mark Gottfried’s team dropped its next game, falling 51-50 at Maryland. State ended a 13-game losing streak in its series with UNC on Saturday night.
Gottfried hopes his players can better deal with the aftermath of a emotional victory this time.
“I think when we beat Duke, there was so much attention around our game, it was hard for us to get past it,” Gottfried said Monday on the weekly ACC coaches’ teleconference.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have not been in these type situations, and we’re learning. You’d better learn quick in this league, because [at JPJ] we’ve got a monster-type game against a really good opponent on the road, and so there’s not much time to bask in the glory for any of us in this league.”
Virginia limped into the ACC tournament last season. Head coach Tony Bennett had only seven scholarship players available, one of whom, swingman Joe Harris, was playing with a broken non-shooting hand. The Cavaliers’ reserves were freshmen Darion Atkins and Paul Jesperson.
Bennett has more options this season, even without Atkins, who has missed the past three games with a leg injury. The 6-8 Atkins, who has started 12 games this season, leads the team in blocked shots and is second in rebounding. He tested his leg in practice Monday, but it’s unclear if he’ll play against the Wolfpack.
This will be the third game in six days for the Cavaliers, who don’t play again until Sunday afternoon, when they face Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
A win over State “would definitely boost our confidence,” Evans said. “The first time we had a stretch like this” — games against UNC, Wake Forest and Clemson in a seven-day span — “we went 1-2, and hopefully we can finish this one off the right way by going 3-0 and beating NC State.”
Its home-court advantage helped Virginia against FSU and BC. Evans expects more of the same Tuesday night.
“I feel like it’s gonna be electric,” he said. “The fans, the students, everybody’s gonna be crazy. A ranked ACC team is coming in here. I know it’s gonna be a battle.”