At this point, London Perrantes is used to it. He’s made the NCAA Tournament field with the Virginia basketball program every year and every year it seems like some media experts pick against the Hoos.
That was true as a freshman when the top-seeded Cavaliers drew 16th -seeded Coastal Carolina in the first round. When Sunday’s brackets came out for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, it didn’t take long for prognosticators to jump behind 12th-seeded UNC Wilmington in the opening game with fifth-seeded UVA. CBS’ Clark Kellogg made that one of his upset picks on the selection show.
”It’s nothing new,” Perrantes said. ”I think they thought we were going to be the first one to lose to a 16 too. So it’s nothing new to me for sure.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett didn’t take offense to the suggestion. He said he doesn’t put too much emphasis on seeding anyway because there are so many talented teams in the field each year.
”When we’re right, we can really play well and be effective,” Bennett said. ”When we’re not right, we’re very susceptible. There’s no secret to that. I think a lot of teams, not all teams, but a number of teams, are like that. ”
Still, when a reporter asked him Monday if it can be a motivator for a team when the media picks against you like Shaka Smart did with VCU in 2011’s run to the Final Four, UVA’s coach said it can. But he emphasized that Smart did more than motivate, he also prepared his team well to execute its plan too.
As for whether he needs to bring it to his team’s attention that the game is labeled a potential upset pick, he said that’s not necessary.
”I almost think in today’s day and age, you don’t need to,” Bennett said. ”These guys got every Tweet, every comment – they’re so aware of it. Everybody’s putting it in their mind. Not that it’s wrong. Absolutely you use motivation. … You can only play in rage or to get revenge – that’s good [but] it’s got a short shelf life. Then it comes down to are you ready, can you last, can you execute?”
Aggressively Patient Or Patiently Aggressive?
UNC Wilmington plays a style similar to Louisville with a lot of pressure on the perimeter or with a fullcourt press. That’s led to 6.4 steals per game and an 8.9% steal percentage (number of possession in a game with a steal) for the Seahawks. On the other hand, it’s also allowed 48.2% shooting by opponents and 74.1 points per game allowed. UNCW has given up 1.029 points per possession.
Ultimately, that style of play is going to lead some decision-making moments throughout the game for Virginia’s players. If you break the press, when do you attack and when do you fall back? If an aggressive defender gives you an opportunity for a drive or a good shot early in a possession, when do you take it and when do you look for an even better shot? There will be a balancing act between taking good shots and not getting pulled into an up-and-down contest in the open floor.
Bennett said he does not want his team to have a hesitant approach in the game, though.
”You’ve got to take the shots when they’re there,” Bennett said. ”You’ve got to rotate the ball and you’ve got to take care of it, but you have to have the right mindset. You can’t pass up good looks. You want to be sound, but be assertive with the looks we’re getting and the shots we’re taking.”
As of late, that has included a high amount of 3-point attempts for the Hoos. With more four-guard lineups on the floor – a look likely to get some run against an opponent like Wilmington – and more playing time for freshmen Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, who like to shoot the long ball, that’s become one of the team’s more frequent weapons on offense. The Wahoos made double-digit 3-pointers in four straight wins before going cold against Notre Dame with only 7 triples.
The NCAA Tournament, of course, is a win or go home deal so relying heavily on outside shots can be a boom or bust proposition. For Bennett, the focus remains on ball security and shot selection regardless of whether those attempts come from behind the line or not.
”It’s always taking care of the ball first offensively and getting good shots” Bennett said. ”If we get rhythm good shots, we have to take the outside shots and hopefully make our share of them. We’re not necessarily wired to just pound it inside and do things. You can do some things to try to get to the lane off the dribble and a lot of times that leads to a kickout for three. … I think you have to have the guys have the freedom to be able to shoot the rhythm shots.”
Isaiah Wilkins’ NCAA Tournament Update
For the first 27 games of the season, junior forward Isaiah Wilkins was a fixture in the Virginia starting lineup. Over the past five games, however, he’s made only one start while battling an ongoing illness.
As a result, Wilkins’ minutes have dwindled. He averaged 28.7 minutes per game in the first 27 games. That included 41 minutes in the overtime loss to Miami when he tallied 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 steals. In the last five games, he’s averaged 19 minutes and has scored 8 points or more only once. That came in the ACC Tournament when he started against Pitt and posted 8 points and 8 rebounds. He also grabbed 9 rebounds against UNC when he came off the bench.
Wilkins’ status for the NCAA Tournament remains unclear.
”He’s still recovering and we’ll just kind of see how that goes,” Bennett said. ”That’s where that’s at right now. He’s such a key. His spirit, his energy, his experience – all of those things are important. He’s still on the mend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and I’m hopeful for him and we’ll see where that is. That’s about all I can say right now on that.”
”Obviously we want him to be healthy and we want him to play to the best of his ability, but if he can’t or is [limited] I think we’re going to play with a lot of guards anyway just because of who they are,” Perrantes said of the UNC Wilmington game. ”It definitely will help us to have ballhandlers out there.”
The Last Word
Virginia coach Tony Bennett on March Madness …
”This is March. This is the NCAA Tournament. You fight to qualify for it. You’ve got to be ready and excited about it. It’s got to be burning hot in there (pointing to his heart). If it’s not, then you’re probably in the wrong profession or the wrong sport.”