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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. Morgan State

The Hoos are back in action Monday night hoping to improve to 8-0.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After playing three games in three days in the Bahamas and then traveling to College Park for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Virginia Basketball deserved a bit of a break. They got it twofold. First, the Hoos got four full days of rest. Second, they now face a low major team ranked 324th by KenPom.

The Morgan State Bears are 2-4, with home wins over Navy and Mount St Mary’s. They are coming off a close road loss to George Mason, which frankly isn’t too bad. Though Mason isn’t the same team that went to a Final Four over a decade ago, they’re still an Atlantic-10 team, and playing them close on the road is an achievement for Morgan State and their coach Todd Bozeman.

The Bears are one of the smallest teams in the nation. They have just three players over 6’5 and three of their top five scorers are 6’1 or shorter. Because they’ve played in so many blowouts, the minutes are all over the place. They have three guys tied for the team lead with 52 points scored (8.7 per game). They are the second worst offensive rebounding team in the nation, and are also among the worst shooting teams. Not a good combination, especially not against the Pack Line Defense. As a team, the Bears are shooting just barely over 40%. For comparison, Virginia is shooting over 48% as a team.

The Bears get by without any height or shooting ability by playing an up-tempo game, running a 2-2-1 press most of the time. Here’s an example of the press, and what happens when you break it.

They use the press to generate turnovers. They’re 47th in the nation in forcing turnovers. That’s pretty much the extent of their defense. In the half-court they’ll use both zone and man. Here’s a couple of examples of their half-court “defense”:

Look how slow the reaction is. That, frankly, is terrible. Tony Bennett would explode if his team defended like that.

This is a better view, because of the camera angle. The Bears don’t even know Villanova’s Saddiq Bey is there on the baseline. Again, the reaction is far too slow to bother his shot. Villanova didn’t shoot particularly well from the outside, but they couldn’t miss open shots like that. The Wildcats shot nearly 80% on twos, because they got so many run-outs against the press.

Virginia won’t run as much. If they break the press and get an easy break, they’ll take it. More often than not, they’ll set up and run their offense. They likely won’t shoot 12-for-37 from three as Villanova did.

This is basically a team of combo guards. Their half-court offense essentially amounts to a bunch of one-on-one games. Here’s an example.

This is senior Martez Cameron. That’s a heck of a circus shot. Here’s another, this one from sophomore Kyson Rawls:

That’s really the kind of play they’re going to need to score against Virginia in the half court. One guy to watch is freshman Sherwin Devonish-Prince. He’s very small, but also very quick. He’s also left-handed. Expect to see Kihei Clark on him, which will be a fun matchup to watch.

Figure on Virginia having at least three ball handlers on the floor at all times to counteract the press. That’s not really any different from what Virginia has shown so far this season. The Bears do have a couple of solid interior guys. Jordan Little is 6’8, 240, and though he’s not much of an offensive threat, he is a good shot blocker. He’s also prone to foul trouble.

The top rebounders on the team are 6’5 Stanley Davis and 6’4 Malik Miller. Both are getting by on athleticism. Against GMU, they combined for 19 rebounds, including seven offensive boards that really helped keep Morgan State in that game. The Bears collected nearly 40% of their misses in that contest. Mason, of course, isn’t nearly as long or as talented as Virginia.

Virginia gets another five full days of rest after this game before facing VCU. That will be the last game before the exam break. With so much rest time coming up, it’ll be interesting to see how much Tony decides to ride his starters. There may be value in getting extra time for the regulars so they don’t get rusty. There’s also value in getting extra run for guys like Marco Anthony and Kody Stattmann.

Virginia played another MEAC team 97-40 earlier this year. Yes, Morgan State is better than Coppin State, but not a lot better. If the starters end up playing 30+ minutes, this game could get out of hand.