It was week most Virginia fans would like to forget. The Hoos were a dreadful 2-20 from three point land in a 65-41 loss in Chapel Hill on Saturday. Then, in a quick turnaround, Virginia lost to Miami in overtime 54-48 o Monday in a contest that rivals only the Wisconsin loss in 2013 as the game pundits will point to as “bad for basketball.” Nevertheless, we take a look back at the good, the bad, and what to watch for...From the Rafters.
- The defense at least makes it interesting - 19, 9, 15, 20. Those are the numbers of points below their season average (per 100 possessions) that Virginia limited their opposition to in the last four games. The 15 points below their average for North Carolina is particularly striking because the Hoos were run out of the gym, but it wasn’t because the Heels lit up the scoreboard. The defense is there. While it might have lapses in stretches, it will continue to keep Virginia in ball games. So long as they don’t shoot an ungodly low percentage from the field, the Hoos can, and should right this ship.
- Postseason prospects - In just three short days, fans have switched from talking about what this team needs to do for a double-bye in the ACC Tournament to questioning —reasonably or not -- whether this team will make the NCAA Tournament. I like to think that it would take a collapse of monumental proportion, but as I scoffed at the question after Monday night’s loss, I was reminded of the 2001-2002 Cavaliers who ascended to #4 in the country in early January, only to falter in ACC play and miss out on the tournament altogether. Off the top of my head, it seemed like the free-fall for that team began long before February 20th, but if you look at the records and rankings, the teams are eerily similar. Each team was ranked around #20 at this point in the season. Each team was around .500 in the league the third week in February. Each team had a double digit lead against a top team late in the second half, only to see the lead evaporate, and a what would be signature win turn into a loss. Still, it will take an epic collapse for this year’s team to miss the tournament. The quality wins for the 2001-2002 squad weren't there (though they did defeat #1 Duke late in February) and the team makeup and coaching are just a, um, wee bit different. Regardless, it’s just not a place I thought this team would be at this point in the season.
- Use of the shot clock - Nobody would ever dispute that Virginia uses as much of the shot clock as possible. When the offense is humming, the purpose of this is to pass up a good shot to get a great shot. What stood out to me in the last two games is that Virginia is using all of the shot clock, but it's not to get the great shot. The entirety of the offense is beginning with six or seven seconds left on the clock, and it ends up with London Perrantes, Devon Hall, or Marial Shayok taking a deep three or trying to create in isolation. The Hoos have to get back to movement off the ball and making the extra pass. It will be hard with defenders selling out on the perimeter, but all it takes is a couple quality sets and it's something this team certainly has the ability to do.
What to watch for
- Show me game - Has the losing streak been a product of tired legs? Have teams finally figured out how to stifle the Virginia offense? Has the losing been an aberration? Is Saturday the beginning of a winning streak? As bad as this team has played, they are still in the hunt for a double bye in the ACC tournament. This team is at a turning point in the season. Get a win at NC State on Saturday and they can take the momentum going forward and put the losing streak behind them. A loss however, will raise some serious questions about whether or not this team will be able to or even have the chance to make a run in March.
- Lineup trends - Last week in From the Rafters I pointed out how it was strange that Mamadi Diakite was beginning to come into his own, yet he was still being outplayed (in terms of minutes) by Jack Salt. Well, after a look at Virginia’s most frequently used lineups, that may be changing. The starting five of Perrantes, Shayok, Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Salt still commands the most court time at 21.8%. But if you start with a core of Perrantes, Hall, Wilkins, and Diakite and add in either Shayok, Darius Thompson, or Ty Jerome, you’re seeing a lineup combination that’s on the floor 18.8% of the time. That’s an athletic look for Virginia, and one I think teams could have trouble defending if Wilkins and Diakite can just get a little something going in the post.
The rest of the season starts today at noon when Virginia travels to Raleigh to take on NC State on ESPN. Then the fun continues Monday night when the Hoos host North Carolina at 7:00 p.m. That game will also be on ESPN. Come away 2-0 and it’s a new season. Drop them both, and um, let’s not think about that. Keep it here for all your Wahoo basketball coverage and as always, Go Hoos!