Virginia rides defense to top of ACC

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Virginia has ridden its top-ranked defense to the top of the ACC standings.All numbers are entering Friday’s games.

A regular-season ACC championship is on the line Saturday for 12th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers as they host the fourth-ranked Syracuse Orange.

Virginia enters the game having won 12 straight games since its only ACC loss this season (at Duke), and is going for its first outright regular-season ACC championship since the 1980-81 season.

In a conference with powerhouses such as Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina, how has Virginia put themselves atop the ACC? With their defense, which allows a Division I-best 54.7 points per game. The Cavaliers have held 16 straight opponents below their season average in points.

Virginia’s opponents are shooting 38.2 percentage from the floor, the eighth-lowest percentage in the country. But the Cavaliers do an excellent job in shutting down all types of offense.

• Pick-and-Roll

Virginia is holding teams to 32 percent shooting on pick-and-roll plays this season, and have the fifth-most efficient pick-and-roll defense in Division I (second-best among teams that play primarily man-to-man defense).

• Transition

The Cavaliers allow just seven transition points per game this season, second-fewest in the country (trailing only Wyoming). In Wednesday’s win over Miami (FL), Virginia allowed just two transition points.

• Post-Up

Dumping it inside doesn’t help opponents’ chance either. Virginia is holding teams to 36 percent shooting on post-up plays and has the fourth-most efficient post-up defense in the country. Miami scored just two post-up points against Virginia on Wednesday.

Best BPI Since Jan. 1

All this has helped Virginia has the best BPI since January 1, with a 94.1 mark. In second is the top-ranked team in the AP poll, Florida (92.6).

So what can we expect in Saturday’s showdown?

A slow pace, as both teams rank in the top five in longest average defensive possessions this season, according to KenPom.com.

Virginia's average defensive possession is 19.8 seconds, while Syracuse's is 21.2 seconds, the longest in Division I this season.

Syracuse is also known for its defense, playing Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. But Virginia has shot 44.9 percent against zone defenses this season, the best mark in the ACC.