Wahoo Preview: No. 10 Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia enters Wednesday’s Commonwealth Clash matchup with Virginia Tech (7 p.m., ESPNU) on a three-game winning streak, and a fourth in a row would keep the 10th-ranked Cavaliers in a tie for second in the ACC standings, just a game back of first-place Clemson.

UVA (13-3, 5-2 ACC) went small to notch its last two victories over North Carolina and Florida State, as Tony Bennett went with Ben Vander Plas playing the majority of the minutes at the 5-spot to go with a four-guard look of Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin and Isaac McKneely.

The move paid off against the Tar Heels, resulting in a second-half rally, and Bennett decided to stick with that same group to start against the Seminoles. The Cavaliers controlled the contest in Tallahassee Saturday, leading for 37:08 out of 40 minutes.

Franklin finished with a game-high 20 points (8 for 13 FG; 4 for 7 from 3-point range) and a team-best 7 rebounds against FSU, while Vander Plas, starting in just his second game as a Cavalier, added 15 points (6 for 11 FG; 3 for 6 from downtown) and matched Franklin with 7 boards.

In just those last two games, Vander Plas is averaging 16 points and 7.5 rebounds, while shooting 6 for 13 from beyond the arc (46 percent).

Franklin has scored in double figures in six-straight games and seven of his last eight, after failing to do so in each of the previous five.

UVA seems to be hitting its stride, while the Hokies (11-6, 1-5), meanwhile, have lost five in a row after starting the season 11-1. Reigning ACC Tournament MVP Hunter Cattoor (9.6 ppg) has missed the last four with an injury, but is expected to be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Wahoos.

Sophomore guard Sean Pedulla leads the team in both scoring (16.8 ppg) and assists (4.4 apg), while Wright State grad-transfer forward Grant Basile (13.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is a 6-foot-9, 235-pounder who has done his best to help fill the shoes of Keve Aluma, who graduated in the spring.

Senior forward Justyn Mutts does a little of everything, averaging 13.6 points, a team-high 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, a team-high 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks. Junior guard Darius Maddox (9.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg) has been a steady contributor, while freshman guard Rodney Rice made his collegiate debut last week against Syracuse, and is expected to give the team a boost going forward.

Rice’s first game didn’t quite go as hoped, as he scored just 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting (0 of 5 from 3-point land) in 29 minutes off the bench in the loss to the Orange.

For the Hoos, Clark (635 career assists) is now just 49 away from becoming the school’s all-time leader in that category (John Crotty; 683), after already setting the program records for both career games played (144) and minutes played (4,776). With a win over the Hokies Wednesday, Clark would also become Virginia’s all-time leader in both overall wins (110) and ACC wins (64). He is currently tied in both categories with the guy he made the most memorable assist in program history to — Mamadi Diakite — in the win over Purdue in the 2019 Elite Eight.

Bennett (398-153) needs just two more victories to become the 155th coach in Division-I history to win 400 career games.

Virginia is a 7-point favorite to make it four in a row at home against the Hokies, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The two teams will square off in Blacksburg for Round Two in a few weeks on Feb. 4.