Virginia Cavaliers basketball returns to preseason NIT action this afternoon as they take on the Monmouth Hawks at JPJ. Although this game is part of the NIT Tip-Off, it doesn’t actually impact who goes to New York. The Hoos will take on Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon at the Barclay’s Center while Monmouth travels to Asheville to face UNC-Asheville. The Barclay’s Center action is a 4 team bracket with Rhode Island and Seton Hall on the other side.
Monmouth faced off against Seton Hall last week and lost by 10. The Pirates led by 16 at the half, so that final is a bit misleading: Seton Hall had it all the way. Monmouth has also beaten Bucknell and Lehigh. Bucknell, despite an 0-3 record (their 2 other games were UNC and Arkansas and they actually played the Tar Heels tough), is still a top-100 team. So that’s a big win for Monmouth.
The Hawks are a solid team, but they have a fatal flaw against the Hoos and the Pack Line. One of the basic tenets of the Pack Line Defense is that nobody is going to get into the lane to score. Teams the have success against the Pack Line are able to move the ball around and get open looks, or have players who can penetrate and kick for open looks. Monmouth is one of the worst teams in the country at moving the basketball, instead playing a lot of one-on-one. They are currently 330th in the nation in assists per FG made, at just over 37%. Last year, they were 306th in the nation, and that was with a very good PG. In their win over Bucknell, they had just 5 assists on 25 made baskets. That’s…not good.
The way that they beat Bucknell was largely by getting to the FT line, shooting 30 FTs and making 24 of them. They didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the field, and didn’t defend all that well either. It helped that Bucknell shot 41% from the FT line. They also got to the line 26 times against Seton Hall (making 22 of them). That kept the game closer than it would’ve been. Seton Hall dominated that game on the inside.
If Monmouth is going to give the Hoos a game, it is going to be for the same reason. They will have to get to the line and make their FTs. And they will have to make their 3s. They are a pretty good 3 point shooting team, making 40% so far this year. Last year, they made over 37%, which was 69th in the nation. One reason they need to shoot the ball well is that they have been turning the ball over on over 27% of their possessions. That’s one of the worst numbers in the nation. In the past, that hasn’t really mattered against the Pack Line. But the Hoos are forcing turnovers at a very high rate this year, something that has continued since last year. Maybe it’s a subtle change in the Pack Line, or maybe its because of the particular skills of the Cavalier players. Whatever the reason, turnovers and easy buckets in transition could be big in this game, as they were the other day in Richmond.
Monmouth is led by 6’5” junior Micah Seaborn. He was 1st team All-MAAC last year, averaging 13.2 points per game (coincidentally, the exact same he averaged as a freshman). So far this year, he’s averaging over 17 a game. He’s shooting 46% from 3, but he’s a career 36% shooter, so that number may drop. He’s an outstanding FT shooter and is very adept at getting to the line. He’ll likely see Devon Hall for much of the game, but he’ll spend time as the primary ball-handler, so he may see Ty Jerome as well.
When Seaborn isn’t handling the ball, it’s usually senior Austin Tilghman. Tilghman is 6’1” and 230 pounds. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s very strong. He’s not much of a shooter, and has averaged just 5 points per game, despite seeing over 15 minutes per game every year.
Up front, the man to watch is Diego Quinn. He’s 6’9” 255 and kind of a beast on the interior. He’s getting a lot more run this year, in part because he’s cut down on his fouls. He averaged over 9 fouls per 40 minutes last year and over 10 as a freshman. (Just in case you forgot, you’re only allowed 5). He’s still at 5 fouls per 40 minutes, and committed 4 in just 11 minutes against Seton Hall. The Pirates, though, have an interior weapon in Angel Delgado that the Hoos can’t match. They’ll match up with Jack Salt, who will keep Quinn away from the basket, and off the glass. But he doesn’t offer the same offensive punch that would get Quinn in foul trouble.
Freshman Deion Hammond has impressed in early action, shooting 43% from 3 and averaging 12 points per game. He was actually the leading scorer against Seton Hall.
The way that Seton Hall beat Monmouth was by crushing the glass and forcing turnovers. That’s going to be the Hoos game plan as well. It’s going to have to be a team effort, especially on the glass. Beyond that, the Hoos just need to play their game and keep the Hawk’s slashing wings out of the paint without fouling. Do that, and they should come out on top. There’s a reason why KenPom has the Hoos as a 95% favorite.