Hold serve at home and steal a few on the road. That’s the recipe for success in the loaded ACC. Well, last week the Hoos took care of the latter defeating Louisville 61-53 before losing for the first time at home in the ACC in nearly two years. Florida State came in and stole one from the Hoos, though the Seminoles are nothing to sneeze at this year. It’s likely that won’t be their last win on the road against the top half of the league. Let’s take a look back at the good, the bad, and what to watch for...From the Rafters.
- Hoos pick up a quality road win - Maybe it’s something about the Yum! Center (more likely, Virginia just matches up well against the Cardinals), but Virginia has now won their last two meetings in Louisville by an average of 12 points. This year’s meeting got interesting towards the end, but the Hoos never led by fewer than eight in the second half. It may be a combination Virginia’s steady nature on offense that doesn’t give in to Louisville’s pressure defense, coupled with the Hoos’ commitment to limiting transition buckets that forces the Cardinals into half court offense where they aren’t at their best. The road win goes down as one of the best wins in the country so far in this season, and proved at least for one week that Virginia could still compete with elite competition (a notion that was in doubt by much of the national media after the dismissal of Austin Nichols). It also gave Virginia a leg up in the ACC standings as Louisville will be joining the Hoos near the top come tournament time.
- Jerome’s crunch time minutes - The six minute, one assist, one turnover stat line Ty Jerome tallied against Louisville is somewhat unassuming and expected for a first year player. However, the time in the game at which those minutes came raises questions. Coach Bennett insists he wants Jerome in the game for his ball handling, and that’s fair, but defensively he’s not quite there and doesn't add anything on the offensive end other than in-bounding the ball and swinging it around the perimeter. He entered the game with eight minutes left and the Hoos still in control, up 17. Immediately upon checking in, he was beat off the dribble by Deng Adel who collapsed the defense allowing Donovan Mitchell to hit a big three pointer. The next time down the floor, Louisville attacked Jerome and was able to find and easy lay up in transition. Then offensively it’s harder to quantify, though his stat line didn't register an ORtG on Ken Pom. While he did hold onto the ball, he isn't a part of the flow of the offense when he’s playing. In his four second-half minutes, he neither attempted a shot nor passed to a teammate to attempt a shot. I like Jerome and am excited about his career potential, but I’m having a hard time seeing him in certain situations playing over the likes of Kyle Guy or Darius Thompson.
- Free throw shooting - Earlier this season, free throw shooting was a big question mark. Guys just weren't hitting their shots at the line. That has improved, but in order to make free throws, you have to attempt free throws. On Saturday Florida State shot 24 free throws compared to just five for Virginia. Some will want to point out shoddy officiating, but this one’s on the players. This team just doesn’t play to get to the line. Their 25.1 free throw rate according to Ken Pomeroy ranks 339th out of 351 D-1 teams. The team continues to settle for jump shots. Without a low post threat like Anthony Gill or a player who can penetrate like Malcolm Brogdon, this will be a struggle point all season for this team. Shooting almost one-fifth of their opponent’s free throws will be the determining factor in in games decided in final minute.
- Lock down defender - Last year (and in the previous two as well), if the Hoos faced a scoring threat, they had an answer. Whether it was a do everything point guard like Cat Barber, a matchup nightmare like Brandon Ingram, or a guy who catches fire like Andrew Chrabascz the Hoos could always turn to Brogdon. On Saturday however, the UVA star was locking down NBA scorers and Virginia had no answer for Dwayne Bacon who torched the Hoos for 29 points, 26 in the second half including the dagger three pointer with two minutes to go. When asked about it during the post-game, Coach Bennett said he thought the team did a pretty job getting out and defending him, it looked like Bacon just had a special day. Then when asked who the guy to step up and be the lock down defender is, Devon Hall and Marial Shayok came to mind. No offense to those two, but their games just aren’t on the level of the legend. Luckily the system is still the star and these incredible performances don’t come every night but going forward it will be interesting to see how this team adjusts to an individual who just seems like he can’t miss.
What to Watch for
- The Road awaits - The road in the ACC is a daunting place. Just ask Duke and North Carolina. This Wednesday the Hoos travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers come into the game a somewhat surprising 11-3. After a coaching change that saw Jamie Dixon go to TCU and Kevin Stallings come in from Vanderbilt, Pitt is led by seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Young leads the ACC in scoring at 22.93 ppg and is the team’s force inside while Artis is third in scoring at 21.15 ppg and can do damage stretching the defense and shooting 42% from three, good for fourth in the conference. On the season Pitt has a neutral win over Marquette and an away victory over Maryland but dropped their first ACC game at home against Notre Dame. Virginia has had success over the Panthers in their short stint in the ACC, but the road is tough and Virginia will have to be on their game to come away with the W.
- Wake on the cusp - Wake Forest sits at 9-5 on the year, 0-2 in the ACC, but don’t sleep on the Demon Deacons. They are 44th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings in large to part to those losses coming to four teams that occupy the top-21 in the same ranks, Villanova, Xavier, Florida State, and Clemson. And outside of the game against the Wildcats, Wake has been in each of those contests even having a chance to win late only to falter. Danny Manning has this team playing competitive basketball though their youth (they rank 268th in experience according to Ken Pomeroy) may be keeping them from finishing the job. Sophomores John Collins and Bryant Crawford lead the way and there’s the always dangerous stretch four, Dinos Mitoglou waiting to shoot 137% from three against Virginia. While the Hoos get this one at home, that’s no longer as sure a thing as in the past. Still I like the Hoos to take care of business and hand Wake Forest another quality loss for their collection.
Virginia vs Pittsburgh tips from Pitt at 9:00 PM on Wednesday and will be televised on Regional Sports Networks, while Wake visits JPJ Sunday at 8:00 PM. If you can’t make it to Charlottesville for that one, it will be televised by ESPNU. Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn for all your basketball coverage, and as always, GO HOOS!