After a shaky start to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, with Virginia struggling to put away #16 Coastal Carolina, the Hoos came back to life with a vengeance. UVA dominated the Memphis Tigers on both sides of the ball, putting on a clinic in its 78-60 victory in front of a loud and supportive crowd in Raleigh.
With the win, the Hoos are headed to the Sweet 16, where they'll take on #4 Michigan State Friday in Madison Square Garden. (After twice missing chances to play in the World's Most Famous Arena last season, falling a game short in the Preseason NIT, then the NIT, the team made it when it mattered most). The Hoos are now 30-6 on the year.
Coming into this matchup, Wahoo fans feared Memphis's quick guards, especially after the Chanticleers took advantage of their speed to gash the team's defense in the first half. The Tigers were quicker, and they were sometimes more athletic; but Virginia's Packline defense simply overwhelmed them. Memphis made 23% of their 3s and 43% of their 2s, many of them coming in garbage time. Joe Jackson, who often tried to use his quickness to beat his man off the dribble just to find himself running into a wall of white jerseys, said that Virginia is "one of the best defensive teams that I've ever played against in college."
The Tigers stood toe-to-toe with the top-seeded Hoos for much of the first half, and trailed by just 1 point at 19-18 with 6 minutes to play. From that point on, Virginia kicked into a higher gear; the Hoos went on a 10-0 run, led 35-20 at halftime, and continued to stretch the lead until the buzzer sounded. They did it with smothering defense and textbook, balanced offense (five Hoos finished in double-digits), while putting up highlight reel plays left and right.
Joe Harris was vintage Joe Harris, scoring 16 points on 6-10 shooting, and showing off his versatility. He drilled 2-4 from behind the arc, but also beat his man to the hoop repeatedly off the dribble. This was the Joe Harris that was picked as a pre-season ACC Player of the Year favorite. But Anthony Gill was probably, once again, the most dominant player on the floor. He's simply not guardable when he gets the ball in the post, and he has dramatically improved his play on the other side of the floor as well, where he pulled down a game-high 7 defensive rebounds.
Mike Tobey, who earned a conversation with Coach Bennett after a lackadaisical rebound attempt against Coastal Carolina, had one of his best games of the year. Tobey scored 11 points on 5-8 shooting, with most coming on jumpers; that included his first 3-pointer of the season, when he was left open in the game's closing minutes. But, most importantly, he was aggressive on defense, going after rebounds with two hands and challenging Memphis's big men.
Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson had 10 points each, both shooting 4-8, and both picking up an impressive 4 assists. London Perrantes, whom Memphis had set out to "rattle," had a second-straight turnover-free NCAA game, while scoring 8 points. And Evan Nolte had another nice offensive game, scoring 8 points without a single three-point attempt. He capped his scoring with a big-time dunk; ESPN's John Gasaway commented that Nolte was smiling in mid-air, as he anticipated throwing it down.
When Virginia plays like this, they are quite simply very hard to beat. The Hoos had everything rolling on the defensive end, holding Memphis to .92 PPP; they didn't allow the Tigers to push the tempo besides a couple early turnovers nor score second chance points (rebounding 81% of Memphis misses). Virginia shot 56% from the field (46% on 3s and 58% on 2s), as a variety of players showed the ability to score from all over the court.
What could improve? The Hoos turned the ball over a couple times against Memphis's full court press, leading to easy points and keeping the score closer than the game was. For the second straight game, they also failed to force many turnovers against an offense prone to coughing the ball up. But...I don't think Coach Bennett will complain.
Virginia will take on Michigan State in what is probably the most anticipated matchup of the Sweet 16. It'll be another late matchup, with tip scheduled for 10:10 PM Friday on TBS. Tom Izzo's team is an under-seeded #4 seed after finally getting their team healthy in time of the tournament, and their offense, which steam-rolled 5 teams during postseason play, will be another good test for the Hoos. The winner of Friday's matchup will move on to play #7 UConn or #3 Iowa State on Sunday in the regional final. We'll have plenty more previewing MSU this week here at STL.
The team looks like they are ready:
On to the next one .... #NewYorkNewYork !!!!!!!— Teven Jones (@TJonesUVA5) March 24, 2014
MSG here we come #HOOS— Evan Nolte (@EvanNolte) March 24, 2014