Winning at John Paul Jones Arena is fun so fortunately the Virginia basketball team does it often. Winning against Virginia Tech at JPJ takes it up a notch. And winning against Virginia Tech at JPJ in a romp is even better. So yes, UVA fans are in a good mood this week.
Of course, that’s become the default setting in a lot of ways after home games. The Hoos own a 109-22 home record under Tony Bennett, including 74-7 over the past five seasons. In that same five-season span, the Cavaliers have produced a 38-2 mark in ACC home games.
So yeah, good times.
Challenges still remain at JPJ for this season so we’ll see how the stretch run goes. Louisville next Monday, Duke (2/15), and North Carolina (2/17) all present tough tests and Miami and Pittsburgh will be feisty too I’m sure. For now, though, it’s fun to savor another win against the Hokies.
The Double Bonus is back for a closer look.
Switching Helped Contain Hokies
I mentioned to Luke Neer of WINA’s Best Seat in the House at halftime that Virginia had done as good of a job defensively as I could remember against Virginia Tech’s offense. Other than a brief flurry at one point in the second half, that remained true after intermission too.
The Hoos held the Hokies to 27.8% shooting and only 1 offensive rebound while helping cause 7 turnovers in the first half. The only small blemish was sending the visitors to the line 12 times. By the end of the game, VT shot only 35.7% with 3 offensive rebounds and 14 turnovers. Tech took 20 free throws.
That’s just a solid effort all around. While there may be a little recency bias sneaking in, it’s one of the best jobs the Hoos have done against this version of the Hokies. In the past, Virginia Tech’s movement heavy scheme could create cracks in the Pack-Line defense at times, exposing seams to slither through for drives and free throws.
Plus, Buzz Williams creates situations to test the defense too. This includes on-ball screens, of course, because that’s a big part of modern offenses and a common tactic against the Pack-Line. The Hokies also set double on-ball screens, however, which is something Miami and a few others have tried. They also use dribble hand-offs, on-the-move ball reversals with the pass recipient driving behind the cutting passer, and more.
All of that was in the bag Wednesday night too, but while breakdowns happened a few times, they did not crop up consistently. Why?
The Cavaliers altered their Pack-Line scheme a little bit to address the challenges. UVA switched screens routinely throughout the game to cut off some of the exposed driving angles that those actions can create for Tech. In the traditional two-post lineup, the Hoos switched a lot of actions involving anyone one through four (point guard through power forward). In the four-guard lineup, they switched almost anything.
Virginia has done this before – Clemson at home last season comes to mind as discussed in the Double Bonus – but this game seemed to feature the tactic throughout not just on certain actions with certain personnel. As a result, UVA switched screens or other actions at least 35 times by my count (14 in the first half, 21 in the second). for a team that rarely switches, that’s a ton!
The hosts executed the game plan well too. They held both Justin Robinson and Chris Clarke to 5 points with a combined 5 free throw attempts. Robinson got both of his field goals in the second half, while Clarke had all 5 points and all 3 FTs in first 9:04 of the game.
Keep all of this in mind for the return trip to Blacksburg on Feb. 12. A couple of things to file in the memory bank follow. One, after switching screens against Clemson at home last season, UVA didn’t do much of it all against the Tigers on the road. Two, VT started to force switches and then try to attack the perceived mismatch later in the second half (Zach LeDay vs. London Perrantes or Ty Jerome jumped out).
Four Guards And Zones
UVA has utilized four guard lineups quite a bit over the last 12 months. The strategy crept up around this time a year ago as the Hoos turned to Malcolm Brogdon as a utility tool defensively against, well, just about anyone at any position, but specifically against face-up forwards like Brandon Ingram and Jaron Blossomgame.
The coaches carried it through this season with Devon Hall playing the ‘guard whoever’ role most often, but more as an offensive twist in the absence of a consistent post-up presence like Anthony Gill. Putting a fourth guard on the floor gets more run for guys like Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Marial Shayok, or Darius Thompson along side London Perrantes and Hall. The move has proven effective at creating more space to drive into the paint (to make up for the lack of post touches) and as a non-patterned change-up from the typical ‘sides motion’ base offense.
With that said, UVA had not faced much zone offense with a four-guard lineup. How would the offensive freedom and spacing work against a zone? We got a good look at the answer Wednesday as the Hokies played 2/3 or more of the game in a zone defense.
”I think the zone can make it more effective in a way,” Jerome said, “because you can put Devon or Marial maybe at that high post spot and it’s a guard at that high post spot. So you can really break it down.”
That’s exactly what materialized as Virginia Tech tried to employ a matchup zone that spread out and played with man-to-man concepts within areas on the floor. UVA often started with a player in the high post, but that quickly morphed and shifted as the ball moved.
I spotted everyone from the expected – Isaiah Wilkins and Hall – to the unexpected – Perrantes and Jerome – and somewhere in between – Guy and Shayok – in the high during possessions. When Wilkins slid to the baseline and then out toward the corners, the offense would look like a five-out (no posts) scheme for a moment and open gaps emerged all over the place since he’s shooting those mid-range jumpers so well. That let guards pass, sit down in the high post, and then keep moving.
With Syracuse up next, it will be interesting to see how the Hoos use four guards against a team that often masters zone defense. The key, though, is to use the freedom to hunt for open gaps.
”Find spots,” Jerome said. “Four guys on the court at all times that can penetrate and shoot. And Isaiah was our five and they said 7 of 11 [shooting for him] so five guys on the court that can all shoot, penetrate, and make good decisions.”
Bonus Double Bonus Thoughts
- Isaiah Wilkins’ first offensive rebound of the night was a seek-and-find rebound. He started from above the 3-point line at the top of the key to track it down.
- This highlight may have been my favorite play of the game because it’s so Virginia basketball.
- Another subtle moment that is Virginia basketball: Jack Salt applauding when Zach LeDay was able to walk off the floor following a loose ball scramble with Salt.
- At least twice during the game, TV announcer Dan Bonner said a variation of “that’s as good as you can defend” about UVA’s defense.
- Marial Shayok’s bucket with 2:43 remaining came on a fake step-back move that led to a nice floater while being fouled. Shayok uses the step-back so efficiently to get off jumpers that defenses have to react so it’s nice to see a counter move in his arsenal.
- I wrote in the Georgia Tech Double Bonus Bonus Thoughts that Ty Jerome’s confidence was growing. I think Kyle Guy is showing similar signs of rediscovering his comfort level the past couple of games.
- Virginia Tech may end up making the NCAA Tournament field, but that defense didn’t look tourney worthy for one night at least. And if the Hokies do make it, they may be an early exit unless they clean it up.
- UVA Twitter had a field day (night?) with special assistant coach Frank Beamer. This one from Virginia 247 had me cracking up on press row though:
— Wahoos247 (@Wahoos247) February 2, 2017