It’s been a great year for college basketball in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
A total of five state schools got into the NCAA Tournament. Liberty was a 12 seed and the Flames upset 5th seeded Mississippi State in the first round before running into Virginia Tech.
While ODU and VCU did not get a win in The Madness, state schools are 5-3 to this point.
The two remaining teams, UVA & Virginia Tech, will both be challenged in the Sweet 16.
Virginia is the top seed in the South, struggling in the first half against 16th seed Gardner-Webb, but playing well in every period since, earning a first round win over the Bulldogs and a second round victory against Oklahoma.
Virginia Tech is the 4th seed in the East. The Hokies blasted St. Louis then played a competitive game against Liberty before pulling away late. I’ll have a preview for the Hokies posted on Thursday morning.
For now, let’s focus on Virginia.
On Thursday UVA will play 12th seed Oregon in Louisville at 10pm on TBS.
The Ducks are the hottest defensive team in America in March. Dana Altman’s squad is holding opponents to the lowest FG percentage in Division 1 this month, as opponents are shooting just 35% against Oregon.
Virginia is known for their defense, which relies on high level execution when it comes to switches and rotation.
Don’t be fooled by this defensive mantra Tony Bennett utilizes. While things must start on the defensive end for UVA, and they must never waver on that side of the court if they are going to win a national title, the ‘Hoos have plenty of offensive firepower.
Kyle Guy is the best catch-and-shoot player in the game. His ability to move without the ball is very valuable to this team and he makes opponents pay from beyond the three point line, particularly when he tightly curves around a screener, and simply loads, and fires.
Ty Jerome started off the year with a green light from anywhere on the floor, but recently his ability to score from well beyond the arc has deteriorated.
If the Wahoos want to win, the easiest way to do it is for both Guy and Jerome to be efficient from deep. If they can shoot above 45% from range, this is a nearly impossible team to beat. Oregon has started a four forward lineup in both of their games in the tournament. They use more guards off the bench, but a good way to get them off their game is for Virginia to hit on their jumpers. I look for Guy/Jerome to make seven three pointers in this game to ensure a Virginia victory.
DeAndre Hunter is an NBA lottery pick that is always a top option. Not only can he guard anyone in college basketball at a high level, but he is Virginia’s best isolation scorer due to his versatility. He can handle, slash, back you down, and pull up and shoot. He will be the toughest individual assignment for the Ducks, who will have to use their length around the basket to keep him at bay.
If Hunter can body up the bigger frontcourt players for Oregon and draw extra defenders by working his man in one-on-one situations, then he can find open shooters and help the Cavaliers open up their offense. Early in the game he might not be entirely able to to get to the rim, so if he can play smart it will pay dividends later.
One of the best players for Virginia right now is Mamadi Diakite.
Diakite dyed his hair for a Dennis Rodman type look and has been more aggressive and confident ever since.
Part of his problem in the past was, while he protects the rim, he never had a consistent offensive game.
Suddenly he’s figured out how to best let the game come to him and he’s been a revelation ever since.
If Guy, Jerome, and Hunter are struggling offensively, Virginia used to be in trouble. Lately, if Diakite has been able to quickly recognize his teammates struggles, he has stepped up. The quicker into games he can recognize bad offensive games from his teammates, while simultaneously not messing with the natural rhythm of the offense, UVA’s chances to go deeper in this tournament increase.
Kihei Clark has been subject of much scrutiny.
He’s just a freshman, but has been thrust into a primary ball-handler role for Tony Bennett.
Coach Bennett has used him less in the second half, but his development will continue to occur under the microscope. If he can keep up his recent good habits (keep the ball moving, don’t slash except to pass unless left wide open, smart shot selection, tenacious on-ball hand-work and defense) and eliminate his bad habits (trying to finish at the rim as an undersized guard around larger players, causing the offense to stagnate, committing glaring turnovers, not getting the ball to Guy/Hunter/Jerome late in the shot clock) then he will have evolved as a player.
The main things to know about the opponent are simply written, but tougher to achieve.
Minimize Peyton Pritchard’s impact on the game. The sensational guard is the leader of this team and in their wins against Wisconsin and UC Irvine was Oregon’s leading scorer and assist-man. If Clark or Jerome can slow him down it would be huge.
Don’t allow open shots. Virginia got a little lucky in one sense versus Oklahoma. The Sooners couldn’t hit their shots when the Cavs over rotated or just left someone open. Oregon will not miss as much.
Keep Kenny Wooten as far from the rim as possible. Wooten will look to crash glass, finish, and find a lane to the basket at all costs.
Spread them out. I can’t say this one enough. This is a larger, taller, more athletic team than most. If UVA can draw them away from the basket when they are on offense, it will pay dividends late.