It was another solid week for the Hoos, as the moved into second place in the ACC. Let's get right into it. Here's how it looked From the Rafters.
1) Malcolm Brogdon sets the tone - In last week's From the Rafters, I discussed Malcolm Brogdon's re-emergence in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year. Saturday's game did nothing to change that, in fact he may have jumped to head of the pack. This week, what jumped out most about Brogdon's play was the way he came out and set the tone for both himself and his teammates in the Oakland Zoo. Brogdon made his first five shots of the game which included two three pointers, a mid-range jumper, a layup, and a highlight reel dunk in traffic. He went right at the Pittsburgh defense and his teammates responded as well. London Perrantes hit a three early in the shot clock (because he was wide open), Mike Tobey was assertive with his first offensive touch earning a bucket off the glass, and even Evan Nolte had a quick trigger hitting a three on his first field goal attempt of the game. In previous games, many complained that the team looked too patient, and that it took Brogdon too long to begin to assert himself. Well that wasn't the case Saturday. And if that is how Brogdon is going to come into every road game, his teammates will respond, and the rest of the ACC had better watch out.
2) Weathering the storm - While the final score doesn't reflect it, there was an extremely tense moment stretch way through the second half of Saturday's win over the Panthers. After Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey both picked up their third fouls within two minutes of one another, fans looked up to see 15 minutes left on clock knowing the Hoos would be without their front court for quite some time. Luckily the lead at that point was ten, but in stepped Jarred Reuter, Evan Nolte, Isaiah Wilkins, and Marial Shayok. For the next seven minutes, those three held down the front court and actually helped the Hoos extend the lead from 10 to 15. In that time the quartet contributed on both ends of the floor. They scored eight of Virginia's ten points, grabbed three offensive rebounds, had two blocks, and two steals. It was the type of effort from guys outside of the big three that will make Virginia very dangerous come March.
3) Isaiah Wilkins - After cracking the starting lineup primarily for his defensive abilities, Isaiah Wilkins has really begun to assert himself on the stat sheet. Against Pittsburgh, he had a very solid four points, seven rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Then on Tuesday, he was unstoppable with the mid-range jumper and set a career high with 14 points adding four rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal. With as solid as he has been on defense, if he can keep contributing in other ways, this team is all the more lethal.
4) Ball movement - While the credit for Virginia's turnaround in the last several games has gone mostly to the defense, what cannot be forgotten is this is actually one of the best offenses in the country. And one of the primary reasons for Virginia's offensive prowess is the quality of shots created by ball movement. The Hoos are unselfish on offense creating what are extremely high percentage shots. Nothing demonstrates that more than in the last two games, Virginia's assist rate has been off the charts. Against Pittsburgh, Virginia had an assist on 17 of 24 field goals made. Then on Tuesday night against the Hokies, the Cavaliers assisted on 18 of 24 field goals made. Over those two games, that is a whopping assist rate of 72.9%. For reference, Michigan State leads the country with a rate of 71.8%. Beyond just the practicality of the assists, the flow of the offense that is able to create a wide open shot is a thing of beauty to watch.
1) Anthony Gill's struggles - Once again, it's kind of nitpicking to find a "bad," but something seems off with Anthony Gill. Against Pittsburgh he was held under double digit points for the first time all year, and while he had 10 points the week before against Boston College, eight of those came at the free throw line. Against Virginia Tech he did look a little more comfortable on the offensive end, scoring 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field. Outside of the points, what has been concerning this week was Gill's struggles on the boards. After averaging 6.1 rebounds per game on the season, he has only grabbed a combined 4 rebounds in the last two game. Granted he had some foul trouble against Pittsburgh, but for Virginia to go far, they need Gill to be the beast he is.
What to watch for
1) Virginia travels to Durham - This is one that has been circled on Virginia fan's calendars for quite some time. The Hoos haven't won in Cameron since 1995 and this team provides one of the program's best chances to pull of the feat. Duke hasn't played up to their usual caliber, but they are still a very dangerous team. Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen can shoot lights out, and a team doesn't go 20 years without winning in a building if it isn't a tough place to play. As of writing, Amile Jefferson is still out leaving the Blue Devils very thin. Hopefully the Cavaliers can take advantage of their depth and physical play to wear down the home team and come away with the victory.
Game time against the Blue Devils is 4:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. Then Virginia has a short turnaround as they face NC State on Monday. Tip time is set for 7:00 p.m.