With a share of the ACC lead on the line Sunday night, the Hoos squandered a big opportunity, falling in double overtime to Virginia Tech 80-78. That in isolation wouldn’t have been such a big deal as losing in double overtime in your rival’s home gym is going to happen, but the Hoos came out Wednesday and didn’t look sharp against Duke. Let’s a take a look at the good, the bad, and what to watch for...From the Rafters.
- The freshmen on a big stage - There’s not a whole of good to take away from the last two games as outside of the first half against Virginia Tech, the Hoos didn’t play particularly well on either side of the floor. But the play of the freshmen, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and Mamadi Diakite was a positive. None of them lit up the scoreboard, but what stood out was their lack of fear on the big stage. We already knew Jerome possessed it after the way he played against Villanova, but he and Guy seemed to be the only perimeter players outside of London Perrantes who were willing to make anything happen on offense in the late stages of Wednesday’s game. Even if at times the shots were ill-advised, they showed that each had the confidence to at least take it. Then there’s Diakite, whose play on the defensive end in the first half against Duke gets me excited for the type of player he can develop into. His three blocks and six rebounds were a huge shot of energy to the team in the first half. However...
- Front court rotations - ...it’s mind boggling why he was only on the floor for 10 minutes (two of which were the final two during the foul spree) in the second half while Jack Salt logged 13. In fact if you look at lineup +/-, Diakite was a part of seven lineups who were a combined +4 for their time on the court. On the flip side, Salt was a part of 5 lineups that were a combined -7. Salt converted on two easy buckets to begin the game, but did nothing offensively afterward. On the defensive end he seemed out of place being a low post defender against a Duke team content to run the game from the perimeter. And when the Blue Devils did come inside, Diakite was athletic enough to disrupt the offensive flow even when he didn't affect a shot.
- Lack of offense - What was most disturbing about both losses was the lack of offensive creativity by the Hoos. While this team is never going to be a team that generates its offense in the low post, that doesn’t mean it has to live and die on the perimeter. Against Duke, the offense consisted of Hoos passing the ball around the perimeter, perhaps a dribble drive for a mid-range jumper. Either way, there was no effort to move off the ball and generate a shot at the rim. It was so apparent to Coach Krzyzewksi that he re-entered Amile Jefferson with ten minutes remaining in the game despite the big man having four fouls. It’s a trend that can’t continue if the Hoos want to make a run late. If teams know they can abandon the post and oversell defending the perimeter, the Hoos will continue to live and die by the jump shot.
What to watch for
- It’s not getting easier - There is no rest for the weary as Saturday the Hoos travel to Chapel Hill to take on the ACC leading Tar Heels. It’s going to be a pumped up atmosphere as ESPN’s College Gameday will be on hand. Virginia will get all they can handle trying to contain Joel Berry on the outside and the combination of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley down low. It’s become a must win for the Hoos if they want to keep pace and even have a shot at a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament. Then Monday, the Hoos host a Miami team that has won five of their last seven. The Hurricanes are coming on after a slow start. It’s a testament to Coach Jim Larrañaga that he has his team playing at a high level each at this time of year.
The fun gets started from Chapel Hill with the Hoos and Heels tipping at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN. Then it’s another quick turnaround as the Hoos and Hurricanes face off Monday night at 7 P.M also on ESPN. Keep it here for all your Virginia basketball coverage, and as always, Go Hoos!