The Virginia basketball team dropped back-to-back ACC games for the second January in a row. Naturally, that’s brought up a lot of questions for fans. That’s the perfect time for an Ask The Sabre series article!
The Sabre pulled some fan questions to take a closer look at the Hoos at this point of the season. This series is presented by our newest sponsor Bundoran Farm, where you can Create Your Virginia Legacy. To see the Ask The Sabre articles in the archives, just click here. Visit Bundoran Farm here.
Since the three point shot is being used like never before by teams and, players will likely get better and better at shooting them, do you think some sort of paradigm shift will be necessary for UVA’s defense? In other words, many more teams than I can remember in the past, seem to have no problem hoisting contested 3’s at any point in the possession. That is something our defense has forced teams to do in the past, but if teams are literally looking to do it anyway, and are getting better at it, is there anything that can be done on our end defensively? ~ BEASTHOO
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I love this question. And it’s timely. Florida State and Pittsburgh, obviously, just combined to make 21 of 36 3-pointers (58.3%). Plus, I just read this ESPN.com article “Is the NBA scoring explosion too hot or just right?” too, which heavily discusses thoughts on defending the 3-point line and efficiency in the NBA. Different league, different rules but a similar question.
And it’s fascinating. Can defenses adjust? Teams are spacing the floor, getting to the 3-point line, and trying more long-range shots than ever before, though maybe not as drastically as in the NBA. It will be harder for every college team to stock the roster with multiple 3-point threats on the floor consistently, but as UVA fans saw with Pitt on Wednesday, just having three shooting threats behind the line can cause all kinds of problems matching up inside and out.
So in an effort to keep this short – and I could probably discuss this for days if you really wanted to – let’s circle back to the root question. UVA’s Pack-Line scheme is designed to force contested outside jumpers, but teams are looking for more ways to get good 3-point shots anyway. Does Virginia need to make adjustments? I have two answers for this question.
One, part of the solution comes from the opposite view. Instead of adjusting too much, just do what the Pack-Line does better, meaning cut off the dribble penetration that leads to a lot of the deadly catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. That thought is in the NBA article above too. That’s essentially what Tony Bennett said after last season’s matchup with Villanova, a team that loves the 3-point shot. Here’s his thought on it after that game last year:
“The tendency when you’re going against this great 3-point shooting team is [to say] that we have to stay a little more attached to the shooters. You start doing that and it opens up the gaps. You have to start with first things first. We almost tried to dial it in and tie it tighter and say we are going to be tighter in the pack so all we have to do is make one movement to a closeout. If we start stretching and they start penetrating those gaps and we have to come in and out like an accordion – we talk about don’t be like a yo-yo – even though it seems unconventional, tighten up your pack and stay in there so it’s just closeouts. … It was real important. What we worked on was how quick we were closing out with high hands.”
Two, I’ve heard Bennett say on many occasions that his dad swapped from a pressure man to man defense to inventing the Pack-Line defense for reasons (fouling, cutting off too many easy drives, etc.) and he’s mentioned evolving and growing as a coach quite a bit over the past few years. In other words, if the game continues to move to the perimeter and changes need to be made, I think he’ll be ready to do it. The hard part will be figuring out what those change are.
Does anyone notice this about Darius Thompson? He is an effective scorer, but he goes through long stretches where it seems like he is not looking to score at all – seems cautious about putting up a shot or driving. I think we are better and more balanced when his scoring mentality kicks in. The spurts don’t seem to be caused by hot or cold shooting, but more as a result of whether he feels he has a green light. Any thoughts? ~ davemcsr
Who is the real Marial Shayok? ~ CalmHoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I lumped these two together because this is an ongoing question for the junior wings. I mentioned it on the Best Seat in the House before the New Year that consistency is the No. 1 challenge, particularly for Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok. I believe that Devon Hall turned that corner in a lot of ways and his scoring has followed suit in these recent games as well.
For Thompson and Shayok, the consistency question remains a big one. For Thompson, the issue seems to be one of disappearing and not impacting the game with statistical production on offense. For Shayok, it seems to be one of appearing too much and trying too hard to impact the game offensively.
Unfortunately, the answer to the consistency challenge isn’t an easy one. Virginia tries to put both players in spots to be successful (read the latest Double Bonus for some thoughts on that), but that’s only part of the equation. Plus, there’s the possessions factor. There’s only so many shots and so many minutes to go around.
Long story short, I don’t have a great answer for this either. This season’s ultimate landing spot probably needs something consistent from the duo to maximize the possibilities.
Should Kyle Guy have started last night away from JPJ (thrown to the vultures)? I am not sure. What do you think? ~ HOOINRAL
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: You’ve got to love the life of the fan. For weeks, some fans have clamored for Guy to join the starting lineup. Now in the 24-hour aftermath of the loss at Pitt, there’s the opposite ‘was he ready’ side. That’s what a bad shooting night will do for you (Guy went 1 of 7 for 2 points, but did add 3 assists). This was a preseason question too.
Anyway, I don’t focus too much on starters because you can add value to the team with a starting-caliber player coming off the bench. With that said, I see the value of starting Guy because he has that Joe Harris gravitational pull potential on a defense. Where that occurs makes no difference in my mind. So, I saw no issue giving him the nod at Pitt. I also didn’t think he pressed all that much with the exception of maybe one shot, though reasonable minds might disagree on that assessment.
Would the mood of the message board be much different if we had lost tough games at California and Louisville and then won our last two against FSU and Pitt, which on paper appeared to be the two easiest of the 4? ~ HOOSNICE
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Two weeks ago? No. Today? Yes. As I’ve been saying anytime fan mood questions come up in recent months (“the football board is too negative” or other examples you can probably think of), fans gonna fan. And nothing impacts fan mood like winning and losing.
What is the “floor” for making the NCAA Tournament? Are we on the bubble if we finish 8-10 ACC with loss at Nova and only 1 ACC Tournament win? Doing quick math I believe that equates to 19-13. ~ Hoos1&1
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I say this every year, but the NCAA bubble is always relative to the competition for spots. It’s impossible in January to say that 20-12 is in, but 19-13 is not. What if the bottom falls out of several leagues outside of the ACC, meaning they become low-bid leagues? What if early March features several tournament upsets that take away at-large spots? You get the idea.
With that said, 8-10 in this ACC with Virginia’s overall strength of schedule would still be a strong resume for the NCAA Tournament. I also posted the following from TeamRankings.com earlier on the message boards, but thought it would be good to include here. I like the stats info on that site and it provides prediction analysis after every game.
For UVA after the Pitt loss, TeamRankings.com projects a 22-8 record at 12-6 in the ACC. The projections indicate Virginia is most likely to finish the regular season between 20-10 and 24-6. The site places the Hoos’ odds of making the tournament at 98% with a 57% chance to make the Sweet Sixteen, a 17% chance to make the Final Four, and a 4% chance to win the NCAA Tournament.