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College Basketball: Virginia looks to rebound against Saint Francis Red Flash

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NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Towson David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games, the Virginia Cavaliers have played very well in one and very poorly in the other. It’s early — we can only take so much from these games, but off the bat, they’ll need to find more consistency as the season goes on. The Hoos are not the only highly ranked team to lose a tough game early on, with then-No. 3 Villanova and then-No. 10 Kentucky each falling to unranked teams from the Commonwealth — Virginia Tech and Richmond, respectively. Nothing about that game on Friday changes our opinion of what this Wahoo team can do.

That said, what the team can do and what the team will do are different. We’ve seen what can happen when this team is humming on offense. But against San Francisco, there wasn’t enough ball movement (just 5 assists on 21 made FGs) and the shooting was abysmal. The defense wasn’t great, but San Francisco also hit a lot of tough shots. The Pack Line basically designed to force tough threes. If a team gets hot (or a single player, such as Carsen Edwards) the Pack Line can be beaten—it’s a lesson we’ve seen be taught many times over the years, and it’s a big part of what happened on Friday.

If the opposition wants to shoot a contested three early in the shot clock, that’s generally fine with Tony Bennett. It’s not a high percentage shot.

The St Francis Red Flash (that’s St Francis in PA, not St Francis in NY, who are the Terriers) may have that same outside shooting ability. Last year’s team finished 44th in the nation in three point shooting. This year’s team is 66th early, but it’s possible it’s a fluke.

From last year’s team, the Red Flash lost over 50% of their three-point attempts, and the only two high volume shooters. Through two games thus far, Dixon-Conovor is 2-5 (40%) from downtown, but he shot just 6/21 (28%) in limited action a year ago. Bryce Laskey barely saw any action in conference play last year, but he’s started both games this year. He was 11/26 (42%) last year and is 4/7 so far this year. And Tyler Stewart shot 15/49 (30%) last year, but has started this season off 3/6 (50%). Are these new levels for these guys, or just small sample size outliers?

SFU’s performances so far are somewhat like Virginia’s. The Red Flash opened up with a road win over Pitt in which they shot 9/25 from downtown and knocked off the Panthers despite being beaten handily inside. They also forced 23 turnovers against the Panthers. But then they hosted our good friends UMBC and shot just 5/13, forcing just 12 turnovers and ultimately getting run out of the gym.

One benefit Virginia has it that St Francis doesn’t have the size and frontcourt depth of San Francisco. The Dons had over 50% of their minutes from guys 6’8” or taller. That impacted Virginia’s bigger wings from getting the opportunity to get open outside shots. Towson’s wings were 6’4”, San Francisco’s are 6’9”. St Francis’ are back in the 6’4”-6’6” range.

The Red Flash are led by a pair of seniors in PG Ramon Dixon-Conover and C Mark Flagg. Flagg is a tough inside presence who blocks shots and is active on the offensive glass. But, truthfully, if Virginia can’t handle him, how are they to deal with Garrison Brooks and company in the ACC. Dixon-Conovor is, perhaps, more troubling because he’s a bit like Jamaree Bouyea, who torched the Hoos with 19 points and 6 assists.

This is a deep look for Dixon-Conovor, and the screen he gets from his big man helps him get off the uncontested shot. Kihei will have his hands full staying in front of Dixon-Conovor, but truth is Virginia will likely be OK with him taking this shot.

St Francis is going to play a lot of zone defense, generally a 2-3 with the wings extending on the perimeter. Here’s a good clip of the zone against UMBC.

Here, the Retrievers do a really good job of getting the ball to the middle. That’s how you beat the zone. Over the years, options in the middle for the Hoos have included Malcolm Brogdon, DeAndre Hunter and Ty Jerome. Having some size helps with the entry pass and also helps get that little jumper off if the center steps up. Best guess is that Sam Houser would be the first option in the middle of the zone. If he has the same space that the UMBC guy has, that’s an open 15 footer for Hauser which he isn’t going to miss. Houser’s basketball IQ and passing ability are good enough that guys will be cutting baseline once he gets the ball and we could see some nice dunks for Jay Huff and company.

Virginia has a huge size advantage in this game, and also an advantage on the perimeter in depth and talent. Seems like an opportunity for more minutes for Kadin Shadrick and Francisco Caffaro to take advantage of that size. Alternatively, Tony could try to spread out the zone with shooters, opening things up for Houser in the middle or Jay Huff down low. In that case, it seems like more run for Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Carson McCorckle could be in the cards.

St Francis proved against Pitt that they could play with an ACC team on the road. If the Hoos don’t come out with energy and purpose, they could get get beaten again. But, from everything we know about Tony Bennett and his coaching staff, that seems unlikely twice in a row. If the Hoos come out and play their game and do all the things we’ve become accustomed to, they should have no trouble with the Red Flash.