The Cavaliers are rarely mentioned among the ACC elite, but the way Tony Bennett's squad is playing this season, it has to be considered a real threat to finish in the top three in the conference, along with North Carolina and Duke. The surprising Cavs have won 12 of their first 13 games of the season with the lone loss coming against TCU in the Paradise Jam. Since that loss, Virginia has reeled off 10 straight victories, including a 57-50 decision over Towson to close out the 2011 portion of the schedule.
The Tigers aren't mentioned among the best in the SEC either, but Trent Johnson's team is as hot as any, bringing a seven-game win streak into this contest. LSU is 10-3 on the season and hasn't lost since a 79-75 overtime decision to South Alabama back on November 23rd. The Tigers were last in action on December 29th when they routed Grambling State, 69-37.
Bennett instilled defensive tenacity into his team when he first arrived in Charlottesville and this season is no different. The Cavaliers rank among the nation's best in scoring defense (second at 50.3 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (19th at .378). In addition, Virginia holds a +6.9 rebounding margin and is forcing 14 turnovers per game. At the offensive end, the team relies on the exploits of senior forward Mike Scott. The ACC's active leader in points, rebounds and double-doubles, Scott, who also leads the ACC in field-goal percentage (.624), is averaging 16.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this year. Joe Harris (12.9 ppg) and Sammy Zeglinski (9.6 ppg) provide the perimeter balance and have combined for 45 three-pointers thus far. Despite shooting well under 40 percent in the game (.348), the Cavaliers were able to do just enough to get the win over Towson. Zeglinski and Harris led the way with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Scott struggled with just seven points and two rebounds in 26 minutes of work.
The Tigers are also at their best when they impose their will at the defensive end. LSU is limiting the opposition this year to 60.4 ppg, holding them to just .384 shooting overall and .294 from three-point range. Its a good thing too, because the offensive play has been far less consistent. LSU is averaging a modest 69.1 ppg this year, while shooting just over 40 percent from the floor (.405). It certainly hasn't helped to be without leading scorer Andre Stringer (12.1 ppg). The 5-9 sophomore fainted prior to the Boise State game and hasn't returned to the court since. He has been cleared to practice, but not for game-time action as of yet. In his absence, the team has relied on Justin Hamilton (11.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Ralston Turner (10.5 ppg) to lead the way. LSU absolutely manhandled Grambling last time out, including a second half that saw Grambling hit just four field goals. Overall, Grambling converted just 22.2 percent from the floor in the game and was outrebounded 51-38. Jalen Courtney led LSU in scoring with 14 points. Johnny O'Bryant III added 10 points, while Hamilton and Turner checked in with nine points apiece.