Once again, the Hoos did their part against a ranked team in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Last year, they went on the road to Minnesota and left with a shocking 87-79 victory over Tubby Smith's 15th ranked Golden Gophers. And this year, at home versus a quality opponent, Virginia once again came away with a big win, defeating #14 Michigan 70-58.
After a tight, back and forth first half, which featured a late Virginia push to take a 1 point lead going into the break, the Hoos used a 15-0 run in the second period and never looked back. The victory occurred exactly as Tony Bennett would have drawn it up; thus, before we even think about how the team scored, the dominating defense displayed must be addressed.
Simply put, Virginia made a case for being one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Michigan's outside shooters were harassed all night and actually did a decent job of knocking down some tough looks. Jontel Evans and Assane Sene together shut down the inside, with Evans shutting off numerous opportunities to drive to the hoop and Sene being 7 feet tall and standing in their way when they did. Joe Harris also deserves acknowledgement, covering Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the former Heat star, all night and holding him to 5 points on 2-9 shooting, while also logging a game-high 4 steals. The defensive unit is ranked 8th in the country in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency-based stats.
Virginia won the rebounding battle 36-26; they not only limited second chance opportunities, but also pulled down some rare offensive boards, racking up 13 second chance points to Michigan's 2. Mike Scott tallied another double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, with Harris adding 7 boards and Malcolm Brogdon grabbing 5, an impressive stat for the 6' 5" guard.
Brogdon had an impressive outing, as he quickly turns heads in the ACC. In 24 minutes, he logged 15 points on 5 for 7 shooting, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc. A telling sequence took place in the midst of Virginia's second half run, after Brogdon missed a three pointer. When the Hoos controlled the rebound and the ball came back to Malcolm, he had another in-rhythm look and drilled the three. It was a smart shot, but one that most first years aren't sending back up. Between his shooting, rebounding, and developing comfort handling the ball, Brogdon continues to push KT Harrell, who struggled against a tough matchup tonight, as well as Sammy Zeglinski for minutes. Lineup-wise, we saw Sammy out there often at the same time as Jontel Evans; that's something I didn't think we would see much of this year, but it seemed to work. Guess that's why Tony Bennett got the nod for the Virginia coaching job instead of me.
Mike Scott had his best game of the young season as well. Michigan got into some foul trouble and was forced to go to a 4-guard lineup, which had no answer for the fifth-year senior. Not only did he have some nice post moves for easy points, but Scott attracted double and triple-teams, which he effectively passed out of. When Big Mike gets the fire burning in his belly, he is unstoppable. His fadeaway jumper to put the Hoos up 9 has been replayed on Sportscenter a few times; as he began to shoot it, I could tell from the look on his face that the ball would be in the basket.
The crowd of 10,564 at John Paul Jones Arena did not come close to constituting a sell-out in the giant building we play in, but it filled up nicely for this early season game. Besides the typical lower-level no shows and empty spots in the upper deck behind the hoop and in the overflow student section, the arena was full and rocking throughout. Props for the noise that invigorated the defensive effort go not just to the students, but to non-students as well, who were spotted standing and yelling too. It was a fun game to attend that looked great on TV and was a taste of things to come when ACC season rolls around.
Andy Katz tweeted after the game that the win will have "shelf life" for the Hoos. He put it perfectly, as when Selection Sunday arrives, a win over an impressive Michigan team who should end the season in the top 20 will be touted on UVA's resume. The lackluster remainder of the out-of-conference slate made converting this opportunity absolutely vital. A victory over Drexel and a potential one against George Mason may be solid OOC wins, but this one may be what separates an NIT team from one that's dancing come March.
To the rest of the ACC: You are welcome! Hopefully, Virginia's victory keeps the conference from being completely embarrassed by the Big 10, who holds a 4-2 advantage with 6 games to play in the Challenge. The trouble is, KenPom favors the Big 10 in all of tonight's matchups, including the marquee Wisconsin at North Carolina showdown. For this year, it seems reasonably certain that the Big 10 will take the title of best conference in the land.