December 07, 2015

Virginia and West Virginia may be neighbors geographically, but their state's flagship basketball programs are worlds apart in terms of philosophy.

Tuesday night's opener of the Jimmy V Classic features two ranked teams and a distinct contrast in styles, with the No. 14 Mountaineers pitting their up-tempo offense against the methodical No. 10 Cavaliers' trademark tight defense.

The schools will be facing one another for the first time in 30 years when they take the court at Madison Square Garden, and that unfamiliarity extends to the approaches each has used to attain its success.

West Virginia (7-0) likes to push the pace and harass opponents with an attacking defense that's forcing 23.4 turnovers per game, tops in Division I. Virginia (7-1) rarely runs and almost never turns it over, with its 7.4 giveaways per game the lowest in the nation.

''I think it's a tempo kind of deal. Who can get who playing the way they want to play,'' Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said of the matchup.

The Cavaliers have continued to excel at protecting the ball even with point guard London Perrantes missing the past two games after undergoing an appendectomy on Nov. 29. Virginia committed just 14 turnovers with Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson the primary ball-handler in wins over Ohio State and William & Mary.

Perrantes did take part in warmups prior to Saturday's 67-52 victory over William & Mary, though his status for Tuesday has yet to be determined.

"We are hopeful, and I don't think there have been any setbacks," Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.

Thompson has filled in capably, having scored 12 points in three straight and recording six assists in last Tuesday's 64-58 win over the Buckeyes. The sophomore leads the Cavaliers with 11 steals and is one of five players averaging at least eight points on a roster that's shown more offensive versatility than years past.

The 2014-15 Cavaliers posted a second consecutive 30-win season despite averaging 65.4 points per game. They're up to 77.1 this season and sport four players - Perrantes, Thompson and guards Malcolm Brogdon (17.3 points per game) and Marial Shayok - shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range.

Virginia's perimeter prowess will be challenged by a Mountaineers defense that's limited opponents to a 22.0 percent success rate from beyond the arc and also leads Division I in steals (12.4). West Virginia scored 31 points off a season-high 31 turnovers in Saturday's 87-54 rout of overmatched Kennesaw State.

The Mountaineers also have excelled on the boards, with forwards Devin Williams (18.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and Jonathan Holton (10.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) each averaging at least four offensive rebounds per game. Both figure to play key roles in this game, as West Virginia has shot just 28.5 percent on 3-pointers and the Cavaliers have annually fielded one of the top interior defenses under Bennett.

''(Virginia) tries to fortify the paint and make you shoot jump shots. That's what it is," Huggins said. "They double the post. They try to keep you from scoring close. They don't want you to drive it close. They don't want to pass it close. They want you to shoot jump shots.''

Virginia and West Virginia last met in March 1985, a 56-55 Cavaliers' victory in Morgantown in the NIT first round. The schools have split 16 all-time matchups.

The Cavaliers will play their first game at MSG since a 61-59 loss to Michigan State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.

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