So now that football is now in post season mode, and we still have 2+ months before our baseball and lacrosse seasons begin, it is time to focus our efforts onto the hardwood. And after a much hyped preseason, the Hoos kinda started the season like last year. Couple of easy early wins, looked stale in their tournament, then break out of their shell against a Big Ten team in the ACC/BT Challenge.
Rather than try to break down each game, we will look at the season to date as a whole, and talk about what is working and isn’t.
- Defense. Defense. Defense. The phrase ‘Defense wins championships’ is thrown around a lot, but for the Hoos this year, it is winning basketball games. Virginia is 2nd in the nation in scoring defense at 45.3 ppg, only trailing #7 Wisconsin. Tony Bennett’s system is referred to as a ‘pack line’ defense, which is almost a hybrid of a match-up zone and an inside trap. To opposing teams, it looks like man-to-man around the arc, but when the ball goes inside, not only does the defense collapse, but it cuts off passing lanes to the outside. What does this mean? Lot’s of poor shots by the opposition.
- Early ‘O’ is really, really streaky. Yes they broke out of their shell in the second half against Michigan, but the Hoos also have had some great defensive runs, and they have not taken advantage. Against Drake they held them to 2 points over a span of 13 minutes and still scraped by a 60-52 win. It’s like a rusty motorcycle: the ability is there to get going, but sometimes it needs a kickstart.
- Tony Bennett vs. Paul Johnson. These two have a lot in common. They both run scheme systems that do not allow other teams to pull away too much and keep their respective teams in games to the end. But when they get beaten, or the other team goes on a run, it makes it extremely hard to come back from. Virginia likes the low scoring games. I always think that TB sees 70 points like we see 100 points on the board. But if we go up against a team that is going to put 80+ points on us, there is little to no shot the Hoos can keep pace. Luckily, that hasn’t happened this year.
- The need...the need for ‘threes’. The Hoos are still one of those dribble drive teams, and haven’t shown a lot of motion offense this year, but they can make 3s. The double edge sword with that philosophy is that you start to rely on it in the game plan, and if you go cold, it can stall an offense big time. Harris, Z, Brogdon, and Harrell can all shoot it from beyond the arc.
- Don’t forget the FTs. Credit the Hoos this year. Last season, it was a chore to get to the line. Now, they seem to be drawing fouls left and right. So far this season the Hoos broke the All-Time UVa record with a 19/19 game at the line. When we lost to TCU? 19/29 for 65.5%. In a two point loss, you can’t tell me that didn’t make a difference.
- Ugh...turnovers. You know those lulls I was eluding to earlier. Yeah, turnovers killed us in the Paradise Jam. But even in the big wins, like against Green Bay, just one two many for our taste.
Well that should bring you up to speed on the Hoos, now let’s take a look at the next two opponents Virginia will face before they take off for exams.
Longwood Lancers, 2-5, Independent
Ah, yes, another tilt with the in-state teams. And if it isn’t Radford, it’s Longwood. The Lancers haven’t really been a powerhouse, well, ever, but they have give Virginia some closer-than-should-have games in the past. So far this year the Lancers have beaten Virginia Intermont and Prairie View A&M and lost to Navy, Canisius, BYU, Nevada, and UMKC. Longwood’s scoring offense is fairly balanced, but Antwan Carter and Jeremiah Bowman are the two legit threats. Now Bowman is a 6-0 G, but Carter is a 6-6 C. That is not a typo. They will start the 6-6, 225 senior in the 5 spot. They are severly undersized, which should tell you how the Hoos are going to play this game. Inside, Inside-kickout, and traps, traps, traps. Look for this one to be over early.
George Mason Patriots, 4-2, CAA
Now most years you would see GMU and think high energy mid major capable of beating any team at any time. Well, yes and no. the Patriots are in a little bit of a transition this season, as Jim Larranaga bolted for Miami and former GT coach Paul Hewitt takes over. They are off to a decent start to the season at 4-2, with wins over Rhode Island, Monmouth, Brown, and Albany, and losses to FIU and FAU. Not the overly impressive early schedule you would like to see, but like I said...team in transition. Look for the offense to run through senior forward Ryan Pearson with guards Vertrail Vaughns and Sherrod Wright to get plenty of looks. I think that this will be a close game throughout, and the Hoos pulling off a single digit win.