(Image – Johnnie Izquierdo – Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame)
Following a disappointing showing on Black Friday, UVA will be looking for a ‘get-right’ game this evening against St. Francis (PA). Of course, this is a potentially dangerous opponent who has already impressed this season. So, the Wahoos are going to have to be better than they were late last week if they want to start the year at JPJ with a win.
How St. Francis has done so far
The Red Flash started their 2020-2021 campaign with a bang as they upset Pitt on the road by a final score of 80-70. In that contest, senior point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover led the way and finished with 21 points and 5 assists as he went 9-11 from the finish line. The team shot the ball generally well from the perimeter – hitting 9-25 from three – but also turned the ball over 15 times. On Saturday, St. Francis matched up with UMBC but were blown out 80-65 as they turned the ball over a whopping 17 times.
Breaking St. Francis Down
Frankly, the Red Flash’s upset win over Pitt says more about Pitt than it does St. Francis. This is a team that struggles to defend well and are extremely prone to turning the ball over. 32 turnovers in two games is not a good sign for a mid-major team like this. On top of that, they lack individual defenders that can hang with top-tier offense talent which is why they play a great deal of 2-3 zone defense.
St. Francis has an eight man rotation which is led by a pair of seniors including starting center Mark Flagg (6’9”, 215 pounds) along with Dixon-Conover (6’3”, 185 pound). Offensively, those two are the primary scorers on this team. Complementing those two are shooters Tyler Stewart, Maxwell Land, and Bryce Laskey. They’re a dangerous squad from behind the arc as their 36.8% conversion rate from deep is 63rd nationally. Despite their success from three, the significant number of turnovers have hurt their offense, resulting in a mediocre 98.3 offensive rating, good for 187th in college basketball.
Flagg is an interesting player as he’s not a three-point shooter whatsoever (he’s only shot 12 in his entire career), but lacks the bulk to be a bully in the post. He’s fairly skilled around the basket and he gets his points as a screener off the high ball screen offense that St. Francis relies on fairly heavily. That lack of real size is a common theme for the Red Flash as only two players in their rotation are heavier than 200 pounds with the 6’6”, 230 pound Myles Thompson providing any real muscle.
That’s another component in their reliance on the 2-3 defense, and is why they’ll likely struggle against teams with superior size and athleticism. In fact, the Red Flash defense is 291st in college basketball in defensive rating at 104.3. Virginia’s skill and size on the interior with guys like Jay Huff, Sam Hauser, and Justin McKoy should be successful in this contest despite playing against the zone.
Virginia will win if: They can contain St. Francis on the defensive side of the ball and prevent them from getting too hot from deep. And then, offensively, they’ll need to find their footing playing against a zone defense while making some shots from the outside
St. Francis will win if: They can light it up from behind the arc while being disruptive defensively. They’ll need to force the UVA guards to beat them off the dribble rather than let Hauser and Huff dominate on the inside.
Score Prediction: Virginia 78 – St. Francis 58
St. Francis has some skill on the offensive end. But, turning the ball over against Virginia and the packline defense is a recipe for disaster and the Red Flash tend to be sloppy with the ball. Additionally, this UVA roster should be fine against zone defense, especially this zone defense which lacks some of the interior athleticism that a team like Syracuse may use to be disruptive. I expect Sam Hauser to feast in the middle of the zone and perhaps even force St. Francis to play man-to-man. If this Virginia team is what we think it is, this shouldn’t be competitive.