This weekend, the Virginia Cavaliers proved that they could win a tough game against a good team without shooting the ball well from the outside. Playing on the road, against a top-20 team, Virginia shot just 2-for-17 from downtown and still managed a double-digit win.
Next up is a game that isn’t quite as challenging. For one thing, the Hoos are back home. For another thing, their last opponent (Louisville) is ranked No. 19 on KenPom. Georgia Tech, the next opponent for the Cavaliers, ranks 109th.
The Yellow Jackets are 12-16 (4-11 ACC). They beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome (not an easy place to win), but they also lost at home to Gardner-Webb. They are 2-10 on the road. Their ACC wins also include home wins over Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh. Those three squads are the bottom three teams (not including the Jackets) in the STL Power Rankings.
That Syracuse win really stands out on their resume. How the heck did they manage to win that game? For one thing, they shot the ball exceptionally well. They were 6-for-12 (50%) from downtown and 25-for-42 (60%) overall. That helps. They also kept Syracuse’s offense from getting going, holding them to just 0.84 points per possession on 18-for-57 (32%) shooting.
The second part of that equation (the defense) is not surprising. Their defense is quite good. They rank 25th (on KenPom) in defensive efficiency, which is eighth in the ACC. But they rank seventh in three point defense and 10th in effective FG% defense. They foul too much (254th in defensive FT rate) and they give up way too many offensive rebounds (278th).
However, the Jacket’s offense is bad. Very bad. They rank 265th nationally in offensive efficiency. That is far and away the worst in the ACC. In fact, it’s the worst offense among all Power 5 schools. They can’t shoot (329th in three point percentage and 270th in effective FG%). They turn the ball over a ton (321st) and are terrible on the offensive glass (266th). About the only thing they do decently is get to the FT line (110th in FT rate), but they are just 179th in FT shooting. They rank 44th in assist per FG made, which is looks impressive. But since they don’t actually score much, it really just says they don’t have anybody who can create a shot on their own.
The Jackets have three high volume outside shooters and two of them shoot under 30% from downtown. The other, freshman guard Michael Devoe, makes almost 40%, but takes far fewer shots from deep than his teammates. Devoe is arguably the best player on the team right now, but he plays the same position as the Jackets’ best returning player, Jose Alvarado.
Alvarado, a sophomore, leads the team in usage rate, shots, points, assists, and steals. A year ago, on a team with a trio of future pros, Alvarado was a successful fourth option. He averaged 12 points per game, shot 37% from deep and 44% overall. This year, Alvarado is option No. 1, and that just isn’t his game. He’s shooting under 40% from the field and under 28% from deep. Here’s two examples of what Alvarado can do when he’s playing well. These plays both came early on against Pitt, when the Jackets opened up a big lead on Pitt. Alvarado had 29 points in this game, and the Jackets held on for an eight point win.
Alvarado can knock down open threes, as evidenced by his numbers from last year. But too often, late in the shot clock, he’s taking pull up threes as in the first video. This is a good look, and he makes the shot. In the second video, Alvarado uses some fancy dribbling and a good screen to get inside. This is the type of shot Alvarado wants to get, but has trouble getting against good defenses.
Behind Alvarado in the scoring column is big man James Banks. The 6’9 transfer from Texas is a true big man. He’s excellent on the glass, he can block shots and he can score inside. He’s not really a back to the basket guy, but he’s got the quickness to score off the bounce against interior defenders. He’s also very good in transition.
Alvarado, Banks and Devoe are 1-2-3 in shot attempts and are really the only consistent offensive threats game in and game out.
On defense, the Jackets will show a variety of zones. They’ll run some 2-3, some 1-3-1 and even some 1-1-3. These are different zones than the Hoos will see next week against Syracuse, because Georgia Tech does a lot more matching up and trapping with their zone.
This is an example of the zone gone wrong. It’s a 2-3, with Devoe matching up on the ball out beyond the three point line. That spreads everybody else out, and forces Alvarado to stay on the man at the top of the key. The baseline defender on the far side has to be wary of Phil Cofer on the outside, which leaves the baseline open.
That defender is freshman Kristian Sjolund, who’s minutes have skyrocketed over the past four games. He’s under 10 mpg on the season, but over 25 mpg in the past four. Sjolund can shoot, which is probably why he’s been on the floor more. He’s made just 12-of-39 (30.8%) on the year, but is 10-for-24 (41.6%) over his past five games. Expect to see a lot of him against the Hoos, because the Jackets are going to need to knock down some shots to pull off the upset.
Last year, the Hoos faced the Jackets twice, sweeping the series. In the first game, on the road in Atlanta, Virginia just about went wire-to-wire for a 64-48 win. In the rematch, in Charlottesville, the Hoos trailed at the under-4 media timeout in the first half and led by one at half. They led by four with 10 minutes remaining before pulling away late for an 11-point win.
As mentioned, that GT team was different. But the defense, by and large, was the same. Here’s an example of how Virginia attacked the Yellow Jacket zone.
The two guards (in this case, Ty Jerome and Nigel Johnson) are well behind the three point line. That causes the top defenders in the GT zone to step up beyond the arc, which opens up the middle. DeAndre Hunter flashes to the free throw line for an easy pass. That leaves Hunter essentially one-on-one against the GT big man (Lammers). That’s a matchup that Hunter is going to win most of the time. If either wing defender came to help, Hunter would have an easy pass to an open teammate on that side.
Two other ways to beat a zone are with dribble penetration, or simply winning a one-on-one battle down low.
Here, Hall breaks down his man and gets into the paint. The defense collapses on him, but now they are all out of sorts. Some crisp passing gives Guy space to get into the lane for an easy floater.
This is simply Mamadi Diakite backing down his man and scoring (with the foul). This is last year’s Diakite, too. This year’s Diakite would’ve dunked it. And looked good doing it.
The man Diakite is scoring on is Moses Wright. Wright struggles offensively and averages just 5.5 points per game, but he’s a very good defender and works the boards well at 6’9, 221. His minutes have fluctuated this year, but he’s started 17 times.
If Virginia goes 2-for-17 from downtown again, and the Jackets shoot like they did at Syracuse, they could pull the upset. Neither of those things is likely, though.