With a big season opening win over Towson, high expectations for Virginia Cavaliers Basketball may be even higher. After all, it’s not often that a team hits 15 threes in a single game. Last season, Virginia didn’t make more than ten in any game. It took last year’s team four contest to reach 15 made threes on the season.
The biggest surprise last time out was from Trey Murphy III, making 6-8 from downtown and leading the way with 21 points. He also did this:
We knew Murphy could shoot. I’m not sure we realized just how explosive he was. That was his only two-point FG, but he was 6-8 from three and led the Hoos with 21 points.
The Hoos will run it back today against the Dons of San Francisco, best known as the alma mater of Bill Russell. This was supposed to be against Florida, which would’ve been a nice early season test. The Dons, on the other hand, are at least a step-up from Towson. In fact, the Dons and Tigers played yesterday with San Francisco winning 79-68. Then again, the Dons lost on Wednesday to UMass Lowell.
Last year’s team went 22-12, finishing the season ranked 74th. That makes the loss to UMass Lowell surprising. Last year’s team had four double-digit scorers and two of those return, but the leading scorer has transferred to Louisville. That returning duo of Khalil Shabazz and Jamaree Bouyea is the starting backcourt this year. Both are really combo guards at 6’1” 170 and 6’2” 180, respectively.
Along with Grand Canyon University transfer Damari Milstead (6’2” 195), this is a perimeter based team. Through two games, they have taken nearly half their shots from downtown. In the opener, they shot 5/26 (19%) from downtown. Against Towson, they shot 13/33 (39%). No surprise that they lost the first and won the second.
Shabazz made 36% last year, but is just 4/16 through two games. Bouyea made just 30% last year, but he isn’t nearly as three-point happy. His strength is getting to the rack.
The Dons are going to use a lot of ball screens and a lot of motion. But ultimately, their offense is a lot of isolation. A year ago, they were one of the worst teams in the nation in assists per FG made and they are actually below that pace thus far. Teams that play a lot of one-on-one basketball do not often succeed against the Pack Line.
One thing that has hurt the Pack Line in the past is big men knocking down outside shots. This is Dzmitry Ryuny, who was 6/11 from downtown against Towson. Four Dons 6’8” or taller have combined to attempt 28 treys through two games. Against Lowell, they were 2/13 (15%) but against Towson that group was 8/19 (42%). With 6’9” Trey Murphy, 6’8” Sam Hauser, and 6’7” Kody Stattmann getting big minutes, there’s plenty of options to help run those big guys off the three point line. That’s going to be important. Those threes were the difference in the Towson game, much like they were for Virginia against that same Towson team.
The Hoos won’t be completely new to the Dons, as Boston College transfer Julian Riswain faced Virginia twice last season. He scored 2 points on 7 shots over 31 minutes of gameplay. Riswaun has played sparingly thus far, but he can certainly pass on his insights into the Pack Line to his teammates.
Last year’s SF team was one of the worst in the nation at defending the three. But, they were one of the best teams in the nation on the defensive glass.
With a little bit of penetration, the Dons all collapse into the paint which leaves the outside wide open. Sure, they’re in great position for the rebound, but you leave a guy that open and there aren’t going to be many rebounds. They hit the glass hard because they want to run on missed shots. That’s not generally a successful strategy against Tony Bennett’s teams.
This game should be more difficult than the previous one, in part because the Don’s have more size than Towson did. But the Wahoo still have more size, more depth and more talent.
Tipoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET today on ESPN.