Nothing hurts more than a buzzer beater. Fortunately for the Hoos, after a difficult 63-62 loss at Duke, the Cavaliers bounced back to dominate the Wolfpack 73-53. Let's take a look at the good, the bad, and what to watch for...from the rafters.
Malcolm Brogdon for Player of the Year Watch - This is going to be a recurring segment in From the Rafters from this point forward. Brogdon is doing it all for the Hoos. This week, besides dropping 22 points on the Wolfpack, Brogdon really made his presence felt on the defensive end completely neutralizing fellow ACC Player of the Year candidate Cat Barber. Coming into the game, Barber was averaging 24.1 points per game and Brogdon limited him to only 14 points, five of which came from the free throw line. Add to that to his performance against Duke's superstars Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram (more on that below), and you have the all-around performance that is the epitome of a player of the year.
London Perrantes from three - Against NC State, Perrantes was deadly from three point land. Perrantes leads the ACC in three point percentage, and did nothing to change that against the Wolfpack going 5 of 8 from downtown. The beauty of his game though lies in that he can catch and shoot or take a three off the dribble. His scoring prowess, combined with Brogdon's all around game, mean the Hoos have as good a one-two punch in the backcourt as any in the country.
The Bench - Once you get past Brogdon, Perrantes, and Gill (on most nights), the Hoos are constantly looking for others to step up. Against Duke that was the Virginia bench. Saturday night, the core of Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, and Marial Shayok outscored the Duke bench 14-0. Then on Monday, the Hoos' reserves once again chipped in 14 points, paced by Tobey's seven points (he had eight against Duke). In addition, it was the Virginia reserves that spurred a 17-3 run just after the twelve minute time out in the first half against Duke. Between Tobey's dominance down low, and Nolte's sharpshooting from three, the Virginia bench almost single-handedly brought Virginia back from an early deficit.
Grayson Allen traveled - Good, I have your attention. No let me say it, so what? Who Cares? There is no denying that after looking at things zapruder film style, not only did Allen take three steps before jumping into the air for the shot attempt, but his right foot came down before he released the ball, which would have made four. But, the up and down was a bang bang play for the refs, and the first three steps aren't called in the beginning of the game, so why would they be called at the end of the end. Show me an example where in the last seconds of the game a player drives to the basket and a travel is called. I'll wait, go ahead...
...Right, moving on. What bothers me most about the end of that game was the way Duke adjusted to how the game was being called and Virginia didn't. Beginning with about 11 minutes to go, Virginia got called for six fouls in just over two minutes. Some of those were legit (Isaiah Wilkins reach in after missing the offensive rebound comes to mind), but some were just a matter of Duke pressing the issue, Allen in particular taking the ball right into the heart of the Hoos' defense. Some point to Duke getting an disproportionate amount of calls in Cameron, but I would say they did a good job of making the referees make those calls by taking the ball right at the defense with their best players and seeing what happened. Virginia on the other hand settled for jumpers. In the last 10 minutes, Virginia was 6 of 14 from the field. Of the 6 made field goals, five were layups. Of the eight misses, seven were jump shots. Fouls don't get called on jump shots. If Virginia was to stay in that game (or pull away which could have happened as well), then they needed to force the issue and not just settle.
On ball defense - As good as Brogdon is as a one on one defender, the rest of the team unfortunately isn't (or at least wasn't against the Blue Devils). From the opening whistle, Brogdon drew the assignment of covering Allen, and all but shut him down during the first half. Allen was limited to only four points on six shot attempts. Then following a stretch where Ingram was out his mind (he scored Duke's last eight points of the first half and first ten points of the second half), Virginia switched, and put Brogdon on Ingram. From that point forward Ingram only registered one more field goal, while Allen became the focal point of the Duke offense scoring 11 points down the stretch, most of which came from the line as the Virginia defender couldn't stay in front of him. While Virginia likely won't face a duo with the skills of Allen and Ingram the fact that an opponent can run their offense away from one player becomes somewhat troubling.
What to watch for
Though home stretch - Virginia gets a much needed rest, having a bye over the weekend and not playing again until next Monday night when they travel to Coral Gables to take on the Miami Hurricanes. Virginia has four ACC games remaining all against teams ranked in the Ken Pomeroy's top 50. It's a stretch of games that will go a long way to determining Virginia's tournament seeding. A strong finish and a #1 seed is definitely within reach.