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From the Rafters: Virginia comes up with two big wins as end of season looms

Wins over NC State and North Carolina have the Hoos poised for a post-season run

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Virginia vs Syracuse Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that’s more like it. On Saturday, the Hoos received an 8-12 three point shooting performance from London Perrantes and Kyle Guy on their way to a 70-55 win in Raleigh against NC State. Then on Big Monday, Virginia scored a huge upset win over North Carolina, showing that this team can still play with the big boys and that the four game losing streak (while disheartening) isn’t a sign of things to come for the Hoos. Let’s take a look back at the good, the bad, and what to watch for...From the Rafters.

The Good

  1. Defensive Clinic - Talk to just about any Virginia fan (or North Carolina fan, for that matter) and they will agree that the UNC game was perhaps the best performance by a Virginia defense in a long time. Sure there were games where the Hoos have held teams to single digits in a half, and the Louisville beat downs have been impressive. But this was against North Carolina—a perennial juggernaut on the offensive side of the court. The Tar Heels average 85.0 ppg (1.21 points per possession), and the Hoos held them to just under half that. Even adjusted for pace, the Virginia defense held North Carolina to 23 points under their season average. That’s ridiculous. All night long, the Hoos were in the face of the North Carolina ball handlers with a special shout out to the performance by Perrantes covering Justin Jackson. Jackson was held to just seven points on 3-9 shooting as he had to deal with Perrantes’ pressure defense every time he touched the ball. Another key to the game was keeping the Tar Heels off the offensive glass. North Carolina leads the country in Offensive Rebounding percentage at 42.3%. On Monday night, Virginia limited the Tar Heels to just 31.2% of their misses. The Hoos sold out on the defensive glass as evidenced by Kyle Guy bringing down a whopping 6 defensive boards from the two guard position. That’s not expected, but it was needed with Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt boxing out and banging down low with the likes of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley.
  2. Devon Hall - It’s been quite a week for Hall. First against NC State, he fell just short of a double-double, scoring 18 points and hauling in nine rebounds. But it was his hot start that got the Hoos rolling after a four game losing streak. He scored 10 of Virginia’s first 17 points and his two three pointers were the start of a 24-6 run to close out the first half. Then against North Carolina, while his numbers didn’t leap off the stat sheet (11 points, one rebound), it was his versatility on the defensive end that stood out. On various possessions, he was asked to check anyone from Meeks, to Hicks, to Jackson and he was stellar in doing so. His ability to match up with Tar Heels of different sizes and skill sets allowed the Hoos to play small for much of the game, which has become a key to generating more production at the offensive end of the court. Then finally off the court, the red shirt junior was named to the All-ACC Academic Team. It’s a testament to his dedication that he has managed to excel in the classroom having already graduated with a degree in Media Studies, and and that he’s able to maintain that level of success while pursuing a Master’s Degree from the Curry School of Education.

The Bad

  1. Margin of error - Despite the double-digit win, it’s probably a good thing the Virginia defense played as well as they did on Monday night. The Cavaliers only shot 32% from the floor and they continued to get little production from their post players. Salt, Wilkins, Mamadi Diakite, and Jarred Reuter combined to score only nine points on 4-14 shooting. Had North Carolina scored just 0.25 points per possesion below their season average as opposed to 0.5 points per possession, it would have been a completely different game. That’s the margin of error Virginia is playing with. Against Virginia Tech and Miami, the Hoos lost in overtime of both games while shooting 42% and 26% respectively from the floor. If Virginia shoots just a tick better in either of those games, they’re W’s. The defense is that good and carry this team into March. But any slump by the offense will signal an early exit come tournament time.

What to Watch for

  1. Perrantes’ Senior Night - Four years ago, a little known recruit from Los Angeles trotted out to get the start in Virginia’s opener against James Madison. Many thought the point guard duties would fall to Devon Hall after Jontel Evans’ graduation the year before. But there was London Perrantes. Now the exception to the adage that Tony Bennett doesn’t play freshmen, Perrantes has started almost every game of his Virginia career and will go down as one of the, if not the winningest players in Virginia basketball history. He’s the epitome of what Tony Bennett wants in a point guard and floor general. He never gets rattled and like his coach always appears calm and collected, ready to get the job done. But don’t mistake his “Cali cool” persona as lack of interest or passion, as it’s well known that Perrantes has taken recent NCAA Tournament losses harder that just about anyone on the team, and his exuberance at hitting big shots is, well interesting (see the picture associated with this story). It’s going to be a joyous occasion to honor Perrantes Saturday at JPJ. He’s taken a huge leap this season as a leader on the court and he has emerged as one of my favorite Wahoos of all time.
  2. ACC Seeding - Saturday will be one to watch in the league as eight teams in the upper middle of the pack of the ACC have at least four different seed prospects, with Virginia leading the way with six potential landing spots: anywhere from 4th to 9th. They’ll have to take care of business against Pitt first, in a redemption game after the Panthers handed Virginia an 88-76 overtime loss back in early January. That was a long time ago and Pitt has lost 12 of 15 games since that day. However, they still have Jamel Artis and Cameron Johnson who, while it’s not likely, are capable of lighting it up from three as they did to the tune of 10-12 threes made the last time these two teams played. A Virginia win however, only guarantees at worst the nine seed. They’ll have to win and scoreboard watch as the results for Louisville, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse all have a bearing on Virginia’s tournament fate.

Virginia and Pitt tip off at 12 P.M. The game will be televised by the ACC Network. Stay with Streaking the Lawn all weekend for tournament scenarios as well as the famed rooting guide for all your game watching needs. And as always, Go Hoos!