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Virginia vs. Memphis: Can UVA’s defense slow down the high-powered U of M attack?

In a battle of Tigers, only one will get what might be a big Quad 1 win on the resume.

Memphis Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway leaves the court following the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Reed Arena. Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 22 Virginia Cavaliers take on the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday, December 19. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET and the game will air on ESPN.

Virginia (9-1) is fresh off a too-close-for-comfort 56-54 win over Northeastern. The Cavaliers are no strangers to tight wins this season — they defeated Virginia Tech by just two points and overcame Florida by a margin of three. The Cavs’ sole loss in 2023 came at the hands of Wisconsin — but that one wasn’t close. In the 65-41 loss, Virginia struggled to rebound, with Wisconsin more than doubling the Cavs’ stat line on the boards.

The Cavaliers rank 29th overall at KenPom and rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Those close games are thanks to their tough defenders. Virginia allows opponents just 53.3 points per game, ranking second in the nation, and just 35.9% from the field, also ranking second in the nation. Virginia is just 3-7 on hitting the over this season.

The offense, which is a weaker point for the Cavaliers, is led by Reece Beekman and Isaac McKneely, each of whom average just over 12 points per game. Ryan Dunn leads the teams in average rebounds (6.1) and blocks (2.5).

Memphis (8-2) comes off a close win at home over Clemson last Saturday. Alabama transfer Jahvon Quinerly finished with 17 points and six assists with only one turnover. U of M was just 4-26 from three point range, but forced 15 turnovers while allowing only six themselves. Penny Hardaway’s team is now 2-2 vs. Quad 1 teams early in the season, which will come in handy on Selection Sunday if the middle to bottom of the American Conference is as weak as projected.

Memphis’ two losses this season came against Villanova and Ole Miss. The Tigers rank 32nd overall at KenPom. Memphis shoots over 52% from the field and averages over 79 points per game. Their fast-paced offense will make for an interesting matchup, but Virginia should be able to slow this team down. The Cavaliers rank dead last in the nation in possession per game, and if they can control the pace and Memphis’ offense, it’s going to be extremely hard to get past this UVA defense. Expect this to be a close, low-scoring game.

Virginia vs. Memphis Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Memphis -3.5
Total: 133
Moneyline: Memphis -170, UVA +142

Pick: Virginia +3.5