(Image – Geoff Burke – USA Today)
Welp. Twenty-four hours after I wrote the season opener of game previews, it’s time for our second season-opener game preview. Fortunately, with Towson, UVA gets a better opponent in their first game of the season. Frankly, Maine is just a bad team, and with that game behind a thirty-dollar pay wall, it was hard to get excited for that contest. Now, at least, Virginia should face a young, but skilled squad in Towson with a couple dangerous pieces that could prove problematic for a still-gelling Virginia team.
Last year, Towson was a good mid-major team. They finished the year 19-13 with an offensive rating of 105.7 (114th nationally) and a defensive rating of 104.8 (226th nationally). They lose their two senior leaders in wing Brian Fobbs and starting center Nakye Sanders, but return a solid core of guys with one notable transfer re-joining the Tigers’ ranks.
Breaking Towson Down
This season, Towson has a strong backcourt with last season’s starting backcourt of Jason Gibson and Allen Betrand returning. Along with those two, Towson gains former star point guard Zane Martin who is transferring back to Towson after spending two years at New Mexico. In 2017-2018, Martin led the team and averaged 19.8 PPG while shooting 38% from three. Martin’s playmaking ability is complemented well by Betrand, who shot 39.6% from deep last season, while Gibson is a smaller, shiftier lead guard who should be able to play with Martin well. The Tigers also boast last years CAA sixth man of the year in wing Nicolas Timblerlake who will likely come off the bench again this season.
The issue for the Tigers will be in the frontcourt. Sanders is a big loss, and so is starting power forward Dennis Tunstill. Now, head coach Pat Skerry will likely look to the 6’7″, 235 pound sophomore Charles Thompson and the 6’8″, 215 pound senior Juwan Gray. Gray is a solid defender on the wing and has length that can be disruptive. But, inside, he lacks the strength and height to be effective guarding pure centers. Neither of those two should be able to handle Jay Huff on the interior and neither are serious scoring threats either. Gray is a decent finisher, but is fairly limited offensively.
All in all, the backcourt is what the ‘Hoos need to worry about. The Towson guards are good shooters and are fairly solid at protecting the ball. The 6’4″ Martin is a serious concern for Virginia, and that’s who they’ll look to stymie with Casey Morsell as the go-to matchup. Defensively, Towson lacks any significant disruptiveness or shot blocking ability, so UVA should be able to get what they want, particularly on the inside.
Virginia will win if: They take care of the ball, hit a fair number of shots, and prevent Martin from beating them. If they play their game, this is a win,
Towson will win if: Their guards hit shots from the perimeter and Martin can heat things up. Defensively, they’ll hope to survive inside and prevent Virginia from hitting consistently from deep.
Score Prediction: Virginia 71 – Towson 54
Towson has some nice pieces, but this UVA team is far too talented not to take advantage of Towson’s weaknesses defensively.