This Friday night the Continental Tire Main Event tips off in Las Vegas as the fifth-ranked Baylor Bears are set to face their first real test of the season in Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers. Given the tragedy that struck campus in Charlottesville earlier this week, Virginia enters this contest without having practiced all week. The underlying implications for the 16th-ranked Hoos are substantial, as they look to honor their fellow brethren on the Virginia football team who just suffered the loss of three of their own.
Below, we’ll preview the first-leg of the Continental Main Event, breaking down this ranked matchup of which certainly sets up to be one of the biggest contests of the college hoops season thus far.
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‘Continental Tire Main Event’ at a Glance
The Continental Tire Main Event has been considered by most to be the most competitive tournament at the start of each college basketball season. Often referred to by many as the ‘Roman Main Event’, this four-team tournament has been played in mid-November for the last eight seasons having tipped-off for the first time in 2014.
This season college hoops fans should be very pleased with the two feature matchups, as two former NCAA tournament champions- Virginia (2019) and Baylor (2021), are set to square off at T-Mobile Arena. The second matchup in this year’s Continental Main Event features the eighth-ranked UCLA Bruins, and the No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini- both of whom are off to a scorching start as they each put their 3-0 unblemished record on the line.
#16 Virginia Cavaliers
After an unbelievable end to its 35-3 2019 season, which was capped off with Tony Bennett leading his Cavaliers bunch to their first national championship in school history, Virginia has been on a steady decline in the last few years. After the 2020 college basketball season was scratched due to the breakout of Covid-19, the Hoos have had two of the worst seasons in the Tony Bennett- era, having lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021, followed by an even more disappointing season last year as they did not qualify for the Tournament for the first time since 2012.
Slow-Paced Offense & Lockdown Defense
Of all the things Tony Bennett will surely be remembered for throughout his incredibly impressive tenure as the Head Coach for Virginia, his unbelievably slow-paced offense alongside his high-pressure defensive schemes is most definitely atop the list. For the last decade, Virginia basketball has gone “hand-in-hand” with a slow style of basketball that opponents find extremely frustrating.
Thus far in the 2022-23 season, Virginia ranks 360th in the country in Adjusted Tempo offense, averaging nearly 20 seconds per possession on both sides of the basketball. The Cavaliers are renowned for their half-court offense of which typically calls for quick passes, working the ball in-and-out of the paint as they look for an inside bucket, or rather getting the basketball into the hands of one of its many elite 3-point shooters. Per usual, Virginia is shooting the 3-point ball unbelievably well, hitting just under 49% of its field goals from beyond-the-arc.
Versatility of the Hoos
In spite of an extremely sluggish pace offensively, Virginia has actually been extremely efficient with possession of the basketball. While the Hoos rank inside the top-10 in the country in defensive efficiency, which should come as no surprise, they also rank inside the top-10 in offensive efficiency despite having one of the slowest pace offenses in the nation.
However, while Virginia has largely been capitalizing on its long, drawn-out possessions to start the season, they are shooting an unsustainable field goal percentage from 3-point land, in addition to relying far too heavily on getting to the charity strike in order to put up points offensively.
Virginia’s Key Players
One thing Virginia does have going for them on both sides of the basketball is their experience, as Bennett’s Cavaliers return a great majority of its core from years prior. The Hoos’ senior PG and offensive facilitator Kihei Clark, who is pretty well known throughout college hoops for the most part due to his unbelievable half-court pass which led to a bucket that forced overtime in Virginia’s 2019 victory over Purdue in the Elite Eight. Not only does Clark make things happen with the ball in his hands, but he's also an extraordinary defender.
On top of Clark, Virginia also returns two other seniors who have been a big part of the Cavaliers’ offense in recent years, in Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardener. The three Virginia veterans, Clark, Franklin, and Gardener have collectively played nearly 300 games in the orange and blue. If Bennett’s Cavaliers are to put up a fight versus a team of Baylor’s caliber, they are going to need a substantial effort from its core veterans.
#5 Baylor Bears
Scott Drew enters the 2022-23 season with another elite, star-studded squad who thrives on both sides of the basketball.
The Bears’ backcourt features LJ Cryer, and more notably Adam Flagler- both of whom were a part of Drew’s 2021 National Championship team. Flagler came up big for the Bears in its 20-point victory of undefeated Gonzaga, having knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half. Flagler currently leads the fifth-ranked Baylor Bears in scoring this season, tallying over 17 PPG. Cryer, who did not get many minutes as a freshman during Baylor’s championship run, is off to a great start this season contributing 14 PPG, in addition to over 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
Flo Thamba is another returning-member of the Bears’ National Championship team having contributed substantially on the defensive side of the ball.
New Faces in Waco
Drew had a very successful offseason in the transfer portal, most notably picking up former-BYU Forward Caleb Lohner, in addition to the 6-foot-7 extremely versatile Jalen Bridges, who is averaging over 16 PPG for the Bears thus far, whilst shooting an extremely impressive 65% from the field.
The most notable offseason acquisition for the Bears was top-10 freshman recruit Keyonte George. Keyonte has already made a name for himself in this extremely talented Baylor team, tallying nearly 17 PPG in addition to over 6 rebounds and 6 dimes. There is no doubt that George is the best player on this Baylor team, and Virginia will certainly have their hands full trying to contain the freshman phenom.
How Do They Match-Up?
Not only has Baylor had a great start to the season offensively, but Scott Drew’s defensive schemes are picking up right where they left off. The Bears are forcing its opponents to commit turnovers on nearly 30% of its possessions which ranks inside the top-10 in the entire country.
In addition to its incredible ability to defend, the Bears’ 3-point shooting ability, which was extremely evident in their National Championship run led by the likes of Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, has also been extremely successful as they have knocked down 40% of its FGA from beyond the arc. Aside from Baylor’s superb efficiency on both sides of the basketball, they also have an extremely long bench which Drew has been able to fall back on considering the foul trouble that often comes with his high-pressure defensive schemes.
While Virginia has had a great start to its season, establishing itself as a top-25 team in the nation at the very least, I believe Baylor is just on another level, especially offensively. While Virginia’s slow-tempo offense often has success, I do not believe the extremely long possessions will be as effective against a Bears’ team with one of the best defenses in the entire country. In my opinion, 4.5 points is a pretty short number as I would make Baylor closer to a -7 or -8 favorite in this matchup. That said, at DraftKings Sportsbooks I placed a large 4-unit wager on Baylor to cover -4 at -120 juice. Also, I expect Baylor to jump out ahead early, so -2.5 is certainly a good number for Drew’s Bears to cover in the First half.
Wagers: Baylor -4 (-120) (4u)
Baylor 1H -2.5