Despite playing a home game against a very lowly-heralded mid-major squad, Saturday evening's matchup against the Seattle Redhawks was one that still somehow gave Wahoo fans jitters. Cam Dollar's Redhawks pulled the upset in Charlottesville 2 years ago, and almost did in Seattle last season, as only 33 points from Mike Scott saved the Hoos from a damaging loss. The fastest paced team in the nation, Seattle employs a pressure defense that has given Tony Bennett's teams trouble. However, the Cavaliers dismissed any unease early and dramatically, rolling to an 83-43 win.
After Seattle scored the game's first four points, the Hoos went on a 44-9 run before halftime, physically dominating Seattle on both sides of the ball. Akil Mitchell had a double-double before halftime, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds. He also forced 3 of Virginia's 7 steals, as Seattle would turn the ball over 19 times. Mike Tobey had an efficient game-high 17 points, with Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte adding 11 and 10, respectively, on 4 shots each.
The difference between this year and the previous Seattle matchups was Virginia's willingness to aggressively seek to beat the press. In Tony Bennett's methodical system, a successful press break is often just getting the ball across mid-court within 10 seconds; last night, the team didn't just try to beat the press, but to exploit it by getting to the basket for easy points.
Bennett employed another innovative press-break strategy: Don't allow made baskets that give the defense a chance to set the press. The Hoos allowed 43 points against Seattle in 71 possessions, the second best defensive efficiency of the Bennett era (38 pts in 65 against South Carolina St. last year remains the strongest). Besides Mitchell's strong play, Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins each bothered the Redhawks with their height, as Atkins finished with 4 blocks. Seattle finished 25 of 59 (25.4%) from the field. Virginia also maintained a narrow rebounding advantage, grabbing 77.6% of its opponent's misses to Seattle's 73.5%.
The Cavaliers also fell victim to 19 turnovers, a number that Coach Bennett will focus on improving; however, he will likely be pleased to risk a higher turnover number for a barrage of layups and dunks.
Justin Anderson led that barrage, throwing down 3 monster dunks, igniting a reinvigorated Saturday crowd at JPJ. He had the chance for a fourth, finding himself with the ball under the basket with under 20 seconds to play; by wisely catching himself before doing so, dribbling the ball out, and running the clock to 0, Anderson endeared himself even further with fans and coaches.
In his first college game after missing one to suspension and two to injury, Teven Jones provided a steadying influence. His four points, one assist and two turnovers don't jump out of the box score; however, his 25 minutes of consistant play were important to UVA's ability to beat pressure. It's nice to have a point guard on the team again.
Next up for the Hoos is the Preseason NIT Consolation round. While nobody associated with the Virginia program is excited to play Lamar and North Texas in front of small home crowds rather than head to MSG to play the big boys, the games do give Virginia's first-years more development time and Jontel Evans a chance to ease back into the swing of things (he did not play vs. Seattle). As further punishment for fans, Monday and Tuesday's game will not be televised. Lamar, coached by Pat Knight, is ranked 252 by Ken Pomeroy and 0-3 on the year. North Texas is a stronger squad, coming in at KenPom #119 and a 2-2 record, including a 74-59 win over Lamar. The Mean Green (yep, that's what they are called) also lost against D-II Alabama-Huntsville.