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The BIG PREVIEW: Savannah State should be an easy, and really fun, win for Virginia

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Lots of possessions but poor offensive efficiency from the Tigers should make this fun for Hoos fans

NCAA Basketball: Savannah State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Savannah State Tigers are ranked 333rd on KenPom. The Virginia Cavaliers are ranked third. That’s about as big a disparity as you’ll find between opponents, and those games are rarely interesting. Savannah State, by virtue of their system, changes that. They play what is essentially a version of the Grinnell system. If nothing else, this game should be fun to watch with some high-flying offense.

While most teams that run Grinnell run a full court press, Savannah State does not (Virginia fans breathe a sigh of relief). They play a 2-3 zone, although they will extend that zone to generate full court pressure. They force turnovers at a reasonable rate, but the real goal is simply to speed up the game. If that means giving up a layup or a dunk, so be it. They’ll trade that for a 3 on the other end. It’s fun. It doesn’t work, but it’s fun.

Head coach Horace Broadnax played under the legendary John Thompson on the 1984 NCAA Championship Georgetown team. Thompson preached tough man-to-man defense, and defense first. He’d be rolling over in his grave seeing what his protégé is teaching, if he were dead (he’s not). Broadnax didn’t always play this system — he changed two years ago. Prior to that, he ran a defense-first team and actually had some success. But this system is a lot more fun to play, and probably easier to recruit. After all, who wouldn’t want to come run and shoot 3s all game?

Savannah State is second in the nation in percentage of shots taken from downtown, with over 55% of their shots coming from behind the arc. The Hoos’ last opponent, Davidson, came into the game ranked first in that same category. The difference is Savannah State ranks just 325th in 3-point percentage. This is why they rank 308th in offensive efficiency: they score and they average 83 points per game, but they also average 84 possessions per game, and that’s not efficient.

For a team that scores 83 points per game, you’d think they’d have some real scorers, or a go-to scorer, but you’d be wrong. Leading scorer Dexter McClanahan averages just 13 per game. He leads the team in shot attempts by a wide margin, but shoots just 35%. Well over half his shots are from downtown, though he’s just a 25% 3 point shooter. He is joined in double figures by Alante Fenner (12 ppg). Fenner is a slasher and is one of few guys on this team who doesn’t jack up 3s as soon as they get the ball. Fenner excels at getting to the rim and drawing contact. He’s also a fantastic FT shooter. Fenner, and not McClanahan, is the biggest threat from the Tigers. Expect to see Devon Hall on the 6’5” 180 lb Fenner for much of the game.

Opposing teams are shooting over 60% (347th) from inside the arc, and nearly 40% (311th) from behind the arc. If you’re into comparisons, Virginia allows 41% (15th) from inside and 29% (29th) from outside. If you allow the other team to pretty much score at will, you aren’t going to win many games. I hope that isn’t surprising. The Tigers are 3-9, but 2 of their wins are over an NAIA school and an NCCAA school. No, I’d never heard of the NCCAA before either. Their other win is over Alabama State, an actual DI basketball team.

Savannah State has a couple of big men, including senior Maricus Glenn (6’10” 235). Glenn would be a serviceable a big man for a more traditional team, but he doesn’t really fit in this system.

For Cavalier fans, watching this game will be a chance to see a lot of layups and dunks from guys who don’t always get a lot of layups and dunks. It’ll also be an easy win.