Charlottesville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - With their sights set on tying the record for the best start in school history, the second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers play host to the Florida State Seminoles in an ACC matchup Sunday evening at John Paul Jones Arena.
Tony Bennett's squad has done a tremendous job in defending last year's ACC crown, as the Cavs have won 24 of their first 25 games. With a win here, they will tie the 1981-82 squad that went 25-1. Virginia's lone loss this season came at home to Duke on Jan. 31 (69-63), but the team has won six straight since, including last Monday's 61-49 victory over Pittsburgh. Virginia sits all alone atop the conference standings at 12-1.
Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles have had an up and down campaign, but are sitting three games over .500 at 15-12 overall. FSU has climbed back to .500 in league play with back-to-back wins over Georgia Tech (57-53) and most recently, Boston College (69-60). FSU has struggled on the road this season, sporting a 3-5 record.
Florida State holds a 22-21 lead in the all-time series with Virginia, but the Cavaliers have closed the gap with three straight victories and four in the last five meetings, overall.
Florida State couldn't contain BC star Olivier Hanlan, who erupted for 32 points, but did a great job on the remainder of the Boston College roster in posting a nine-point win last week. Devon Bookert led the way for FSU with 18 points. Bookert was 6-of-7 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc in the victory. He was joined in double figures by Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Phil Cofer, who netted 13 points apiece. The Seminoles shot a solid .477 from the floor in the game, a number inflated by an impressive 8-of-12 showing from long range.
The FSU lineup has seen some changes this season, none more critical than the loss of Aaron Thomas (14.8 ppg) early on. With Thomas no longer on the roster others have had to step up and take on bigger roles, especially at the offensive end. Duke may possess the big-name youngsters in the league, but FSU's Rathan-Mayes has played as well as most. The 6-4 freshman is both a potent scorer (13.6 ppg) and deft distributor (4.5 apg) and seems to be getting better as the year wears on. Junior guards Montay Brandon (12.2 ppg) and Bookert (11.0 ppg) round out the top scoring threats for a team that is averaging 68.2 ppg on a solid .464 shooting.
The Cavaliers have had to deal with the own adversity of late, as talented junior Justin Anderson (13.4 ppg) has been sidelined recently with a hand injury. It will still be a couple of weeks before his return, but Virginia hasn't really missed a beat, still relying on staunch defensive play to get the job done. Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense (50.8 ppg), ranks third in field-goal percentage defense (.358) and eighth in rebounding margin (+8.4). Juniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill lead the way for Virginia. A 6-5 guard, Brogdon is the team's top scoring threat at 13.8 ppg. Gill, a 6-8 forward, adds 11.2 ppg and is tops on the team in rebounding (6.7 rpg).
Virginia produced yet another defensive gem against Pittsburgh last week, as the Panthers were held to a mere .386 shooting at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers were particularly stingy in the first half, yielding just 15 points to Pitt, while taking a 10-point lead into the break. Brogdon led the way offensively, going 5-of-10 from the floor and posting 18 points. Gill added 12 points to the cause, while point guard London Perrantes finished with 10 points and six assists.