In the five weeks since Virginia and Virginia Tech opened ACC play against each other, both have experienced radical transformations, making steps forward despite significant setbacks.
The Hokies are down to eight scholarship players because of injuries and absences, while Virginia's best player is sidelined at least for the immediate future, making a young roster even younger.
Still, the depleted Hokies have found some traction and cohesiveness in cobbling together a five-game win streak. Virginia has won two in a row after several desultory performances.
Competition stiffens considerably for both when they resume ACC play Saturday — the Cavaliers (10-5, 1-0) against North Carolina at noon in a sold-out game in Charlottesville, Tech (9-4, 0-1) versus Florida State at 3 p.m. in Blacksburg.
"We're going to have to continue to take it to another level to have a chance to be competitive against them," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said, referring to FSU as "a magnificent basketball team."
Magnificent teams don't lose to Auburn, as the Seminoles did last Monday, but they are long and athletic and superb defensively. They lead the ACC in field goal percentage defense (.347) and 3-point defense (.286) by wide margins, and top the league in rebound margin (plus-8.3).
Florida State's length will be particularly troublesome for Tech, whose only two bonafide frontcourt players are Jeff Allen and Victor Davila. Allen, the 6-foot-7 senior, plays with a groin injury that limited his practice time in the past two weeks.
Hokies All-ACC guard Malcolm Delaney (19.1 ppg) has adapted well since moving from point guard to the off guard position. Greenberg made that move when Dorenzo Hudson was sidelined for the season in December, and Erick Green became the starting point guard.
Green (9.1 ppg) has scored in double figures in all five games as a starter and has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"Our team is in a great place mentally," Greenberg said. "We've won five games in a row. We've won games, and the guys that are playing know they're going to play. We've got more guys contributing.
"There's a concern, for sure, but in terms of our mindset and practices, we haven't had a bad practice. We haven't had a practice like we normally practice — that's the problem. But our guys are in a good place right now. I think they like the way they're playing."
Virginia enters Saturday's game against the Tar Heels with some confidence, at least on the offensive side, after Tuesday's 84-63 win against Howard. Mustapha Farrakhan led a torrid shooting performance with 31 points, hitting 11-for-12 from the field.The Cavaliers shot 66.7 percent for the game and 64 percent from 3-point range.
They might have wanted to save some of that for Carolina (10-4), which has won three in a row and eight of 10. The Tar Heels will try to take advantage of size matchups inside with 7-foot Tyler Zeller (14.6 ppg), 6-10 John Henson (10.1 ppg) and 6-8 super freshman Harrison Barnes (11.9 ppg).
Virginia's size and experience deficits are especially acute given the absence of leading scorer Mike Scott, the only consistent frontcourt player. He has been sidelined the past three games after a recurrence of ankle problems following surgery in mid-December.
In addition, the status of 6-9 senior Will Sherrill is up in the air. After returning from a broken right fibula, he was inadvertently kicked in the right shin early in the Howard game and didn't return.
Carolina also hopes to goose the tempo beyond Virginia's comfort level. The Heels are averaging 80.6 points per game, the Cavaliers are giving up 61.7.Copyright © 2015, CT Now