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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. William and Mary

Hoos have two more games in 2018, starting with the Tribe.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough road game against fast paced South Carolina, the Virginia Cavaliers deserve a break. They’ll get it with a home game against William & Mary. Not necessarily because the Tribe aren’t good, though they are struggling at just 4-7, but because they play a pace much more suited to Virginia basketball than USC did.

The Tribe have beaten 106th ranked St Joe’s at home this year. They’ve also lost to 164th ranked George Mason at home and to 190th ranked Illinois-Chicago on the road. That St Joe’s win is the only one that impresses anybody, as they’ve also beaten High Point (223) and Hampton (237). They are coming off a 106-89 win over DIII school William Peace.

Another reason this seems like a rest game is that the Tribe simply don’t play defense. While their offense is strong—71st in offensive efficiency—their defense ranks 312th. The only team Virginia faced with a worse defense was Coppin State, and Virginia scored 97 in that game. It almost goes without saying that Virginia isn’t going to lose if they score in the 90s.

There are reasons for concern though. The Tribe can spread the floor. They have nine different players who’ve taken more than 10 three pointers (Virginia has five). That includes 6’10 Nathan Knight, who could be a matchup problem for Virginia. The Pack Line has, at times, struggled with big men who could shoot from outside. Knight is only a career 27% shooter from outside, though, and he only shoots about one per game. He is, however, dangerous inside.

The Tribe will also run the offense through Knight at times. He leads the team in assist rate and is an excellent passer. Here’s an example:

That is not an easy pass, threading the needle with a bounce pass. That actually isn’t the norm for Knight. They’ll often run the offense through him in the post. They get a lot of their three looks on inside-outside action. Whether that’s Knight in the post, or somebody driving and kicking, they are 17th in the nation in assists per FG made (and were 27th last year).

Knight leads the team with over 19 points per game, but he actually doesn’t lead in rebounds. That honor goes to Justin Pierce, a 3rd team All-CAA performer last year. At just 6’7, Pierce averages a double-double and has one of the top defensive rebounding rates in the nation. He can also do this:

Pierce will likely be matched up with DeAndre Hunter in this one. Hunter is posting an elite offensive rebounding rate so far this year. The battle on the boards between those two should be interesting. On the offensive end, Pierce has an NBA game. William & Mary has not had a player in the NBA since 1984 (although they did have one drafted in 2015 who never saw NBA action.) He can drive and finish through contact, he can dish and he can shoot. But he really struggles on the defensive end. Unless he improves that, it’s going to keep him from making the NBA. Hunter has been slumping a bit, but look for him to bust out of that slump in this game with Pierce on him.

Pierce has also been slumping a bit, at least in terms of shooting the ball. He was over 41% last year, but he’s made just under 33% this year. He was 8-for-18 (44%) in the opening three games before suffering an injury and missing two games. He’s made just 6-of-27 since then. Is the poor shooting a result of the injury, or is there something wrong with the offense and he’s not getting the same looks?

You could really ask the same question about the entire team (minus the injury part). A year ago, W&M led the nation in 3PT%, making over 42% of their shots. This year, they are 164th in the nation, making just 34%. Yes, they lost two very good shooters in David Cohn (44%) and Connor Burchfield (50%, 4th nationally), but they also have a number of guys whose numbers are down from last year. Along with Pierce, Paul Rowley (33% this season after 42% last year) and BC transfer Matt Milon is shooting 39% as a 42% career shooter (ok, so that’s not too bad).

There’s a trio of freshmen—L.J. Owens, Chase Audige and Thornton Scott—who are all knocking down at least 35% of their treys. None of them are shooting the same volume of those graduated players shot (mostly because of lack of minutes), but at least they show that the future could be bright for the Tribe.

Despite finishing #1 overall in three point shooting, and 27th overall in offensive efficiency, the Tribe finished just 18-11 (11-7 in conference) and did not advance to post-season play. That’s because the defense ranked 335th. This year, the defense is all the way up to 310th. But the offense has fallen to 70th, mostly due to the drop in three point shooting. That is why the team is struggling.

The Pack Line has proven susceptible to teams that can knock down a lot of outside shots. The Tribe may have been able to do that last year, but this year it doesn’t seem likely.