Virginia Cavaliers vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 17th 2024

When two teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble meet at this time of year, the game takes on added importance as a head-to-head litmus test.

Such is the case Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., when Wake Forest (16-8, 8-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces No. 21 Virginia (19-6, 10-4).

While the Cavaliers have a better record, the Demon Deacons may have the superior resume, which includes a 66-47 romp over Virginia five weeks ago in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Wake Forest is a few notches ahead of Virginia on the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, but the Demon Deacons are more than a dozen rungs down the ladder from the Cavaliers on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

The teams enter the weekend in third and fourth places in a conference which some experts predict will place as few as three teams in the tournament. Thus the importance of Saturday’s game.

“We play a good Wake team that beat us earlier,” Virginia guard Reece Beekman said Tuesday night after the Cavaliers’ 74-63 loss to Pitt. “I still think we got the right mindset. We just gotta clean up some things.”

The first matter that needs tidying up is Virginia’s signature pack-line defense. The unit ranks No. 3 in the nation, holding opponents to an average of 58.3 points per game, but the Cavaliers have surrendered 150 points in their last two outings.

“We probably gave up four or five unforced errors in the first half that gave them 3s and you can’t do that against an offensive team like (Pitt),” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We had a harder time containing the dribble.”

Led by Beekman (19 points) and Isaac McKneely (15 points), the Cavaliers made 50 percent of their shots from the floor and committed only five turnovers.

But the Panthers made 14 shots from beyond the arc compared to four for the Cavaliers, with Blake Hinson (27 points) outscoring Virginia by himself from deep, hitting five of his 13 long-range tries.

The loss ended the Cavaliers’ nation-high 23-game home winning streak and eight-game overall run.

Wake Forest also is coming off a loss, 77-69 on Monday at No. 9 Duke, which snapped the Demon Deacons’ three-game winning streak.

Wake Forest had an opportunity in the first half as Duke struggled early. But the Demon Deacons missed too many quality shots, hitting 28.2 percent from the floor and 4 of 19 from deep (21 percent) in the first half.

“They were wide open and they’re all pretty damn good shooters,” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the hole. Find other ways to do things.”

Hunter Sallis led the Demon Deacons with 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting. But Wake Forest’s backcourt starters Kevin Miller and Cameron Hildreth combined to make only 2 of 16 shots, scoring nine points.

In the first game between Wake Forest and Virginia, Sallis (21 points, nine rebounds) and Andrew Carr (12 points, 12 rebounds) played the lead roles as the Demon Deacons shot 50 percent and held the Cavaliers to 28.1 percent marksmanship.

“They got some really good guards that can get downhill and make passes, kickout 3s,” McKneely said of the Demon Deacons. “It’ll be a very tough game, for sure.”

–Field Level Media

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