The road in the ACC is not a very friendly place. Virginia was reminded of that when they visited Coral Gables (specifically not a friendly place for the Hoos) and fell to the Hurricanes 64-61 on Monday night. The Hoos trailed for much of the game, but took a lead with about eight minutes to go and had three chances to tie or take the lead with under a minute go. In the end, Virginia came up just short. Virginia was once again led by All-Everything guard Malcolm Brogdon. Let's take a look at how the game played out...From the Rafters.
1) Malcolm Brogdon's NBA prospects - In our weekly section devoted to Malcolm Brogdon, we take a look at his NBA prospects. Earlier this week, STL's Brian Schwartz looked into what the draft services are saying about Brogdon, so in case you missed it, you can check it out here. So, what has changed? From my perspective, in the last several games he has taken charge as a scorer. Going into the season, those of us who follow him and watch every game know he has a tremendous all around skill set, but he didn't necessarily fill up the stat sheet (most notably points). Against Miami, he was Virginia's offense scoring 28 points (his seventh 20 point game in the last ten) including four of Virginia's five three pointers. That has gotten the attention of league scouts, but that won't be what gets him to the next level.
For Brogdon, the future is very bright. I like to compare him to another Virginia great when I look at the potential for his career, and its very timely given his retirement from the NFL that that player is Heath Miller. Both are quiet, on and off the floor. Both are extremely nice guys, though they play a very physical style once they step onto the court/field. But what reminds me most about Miller when I look at Brogdon is the unassuming way he approaches the game and that his greatest skill lies in something that doesn't show up in the box score. For Miller, it's his blocking. For Brogdon, it's his defense. While Pittsburgh's passing game has gotten the press in recent seasons, the Steelers are a running team and Miller was a huge factor in that. It showed when he was injured a couple years ago, the Steeler running game stalled. We are seeing something similar with Brodgon and defense. Monday night, Sheldon McClellan was 3-10 from the field with one of his field goals coming with Brogdon on the bench. He shut down Cat Barber, he blanketed Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen. And going forward, that is what will get him on an NBA roster. We can talk all day about his jumping ability, three point shot, or dribbling, but when it comes to the NBA, if you can do one thing at an elite level, you can have a very successful career.
2) Virginia's tournament outlook - Virginia just lost to the #12 team in the country on their home floor. Do you know how many teams in the AP top ten in the country have won a game, on the road, against a team ranked higher than 12th? Three. That's it. Kansas won at #3 Oklahoma, Iowa won at #6 Michigan State, and our beloved Hoos won at #11 Louisville. This year more than any, losing on the road against good teams is the norm. It in no way hurts the Hoos' tournament outlook, and if Virginia can take care of business on Saturday against North Carolina, there is no reason why they shouldn't remain where they are in the polls or drop a spot at worst. While I am not a fan of the RPI, the committee still uses it heavily and Virginia should be compared favorably using those metrics. Their seven wins against the top 50 are tied for fourth in the country, and at the top end, only two teams in the country (Kansas and Oklahoma) have more top 25 wins than the Hoos' five. And while I personally weight who you beat more than who you lost to, the Hoos lone bad loss at VT isn't as much as a detriment as it might have been in past years. Of the teams in the AP Top Ten, only four teams (Villanova, Oklahoma, Xavier, and Arizona) don't have a loss outside the top 100. While it can be frustrating to watch the Hoos be so close, and lose games we think they should win, let's be clear, even after Monday, the resume is still one of the best in the country.
1) Injuries - Shortly before Monday night's game, it was announced that Evan Nolte would be out with a foot injury. Then in the second half, Isaiah Wilkins took a knee to the head and spent the rest of the game being monitored by team doctors. And in a matter of two hours, the Hoos went from being extremely deep in the front court to all of a sudden having to play Jarred Reuter significant minutes. That is nothing against Reuter, who outside of Brogdon looked like one of the only Hoos who came ready to play. With North Carolina coming to town, the Hoos can ill afford to have casualties at that position.
2) Cavaliers end of game execution - Over the past three seasons, Virginia is 68-3 when the margin of victory is seven or more. They are 13-14 in games decided by six or less. That tells me two things. First, the Hoos have won a lot of games over the last three years, but second, when the game is tight, the Hoos aren't necessarily at their best. Monday night showed many of the ills that have fallen Virginia in the last couple years. First, urgency. Virginia's offense is so deliberate throughout the game, they have a hard time knowing when to turn it off and on. Too many times in the latter stages of the game London Perrantes is still walking the ball across half court wasting away precious seconds. Second, the confidence to get stops. The defense is so good, when the score gets tight Virginia generally chooses to play tough defense hoping to get a stop rather than fouling early and often in an attempt to extend the game. Third, It's very surprising to me that at the end of the game, it's Perrantes and not Brogdon who has the ball in his hands. The loss to Virginia Tech back in January and Monday night's game illustrate two situations where Perrantes was left to create a shot on his own. If I am an opposing coach, I'm going to blanket Brogdon in that situation and force Perrantes to beat my team off the dribble. However, if Brogdon has the ball in his hands from the beginning of the possession, it makes it all the more difficult for the defense to completely smoother him without leaving one of his teammates wide open. All of that said, the takeaway here is obvious. Just beat everyone by seven or more.
What to Watch For
1) Showdown with North Carolina - To say this game has huge ACC implications would be an understatement. Virginia can earn anywhere from the first to the eighth seed in the ACC Tournament based on how they finish the season (and others as well since UVA doesn't control their own destiny for the first through third seeds), and Saturday's game will go a long way to ensuring it's closer to the former. The key matchup to watch is how Virginia's depleted front court handles the trio of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks. Two of those three will be on the floor at all times and there is no doubt the Tar Heels' offense will run through them. They crash the offensive glass which could make Mike Tobey all the more important. I am interested to see if Coach Bennett figures out a way to have Tobey and Anthony Gill on the floor at the same time. The one saving grace for Virginia is that the UNC trio are more traditional post players and won't stretch the floor like Jamel Artis from Pittsburgh or Jaron Blossomgame from Clemson.
You may have heard Saturday's game tips at 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN. Also there is this little known program called College Gameday that will be televised live from John Paul Jones Arena at 11 a.m. Doors for Gameday open at 9 a.m. and the event is free and open to the public.
Then in the undercard of the week, Virginia will travel to Clemson to face the Tigers on Tuesday night. Tip time is at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.