Presents “Ask The Sabre” – Most Improved, Physical Play, & More

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Virginia is on a break for exams.
And the ‘Most Improved Award’ goes to … ~ Kris Wright

The Virginia basketball team is on hiatus for the annual exam break, but UVA fans have a hard time taking a few days off talking about the team. Rolling into the break at 9-0 after sustained success will do that.

Never fear, the “Ask The Sabre” roundtable is back to take on a few hoops questions to help you pass the time. AskLandis is your full-service turn-key solution to help take back your home. From downsizing and decluttering to staging and moving and storage, they do it all. Why call five to 10 different companies when you can use just one? Give a shot at your business – just click the logo below.

Sabre Editor Kris Wright, Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne, and AskLandis’ Brandon Lloyd provide their answers to fan questions. Here we go!

Ask The Sabre

Who, on our team, do you think is most improved from last year and why? ~ Saratoga Hoo

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: It looked like De’Andre Hunter was the most popular answer to this question on the message boards. Understandably. Before a sub-par outing against VCU just before the break, Hunter had scored in double figures in every game and gobbled up almost 30 minutes per night. Those are both improvements over his debut season.

I’m going to provide a different answer as a food for thought addition and say Kyle Guy. He’s as good defensively as he’s ever been so far this season and he’s remained productive offensively despite some tweaks that have reduced ‘off screen’ shots for the offense. In fact, he’s expanded his game offensively.

First, the defense. He’s allowed .701 points per possession, which is slightly down from last year at .672, but he’s been attacked a little more often so far. He’s better so far at spot-up defense (.583 vs. .688 ppp) and isolation defense (.300 vs. .577 ppp). Offensively, he’s averaging slightly fewer points than last season (13.4 vs. 14.1) but he’s shooting a higher percentage from 3 and overall and he’s getting to the line more often (2.3 vs 1.5 FTA per game). He’s dishing the ball more to set up others as well without turning it over as much. He had 50 assists all of last year and has 23 already this season. His assist-turnover ratio has improved from 1.19 to 1.92.

Guy was an All-American and first-team All-ACC last season, but he’s showing improvements in year three.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Ty Jerome. While he has had several off shooting nights, I like the confidence and leadership the junior point guard has shown so far. So far he has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from 2.1 to 3.2. He is taking care of the ball, while also showing more aggressiveness in driving to the basket, and I like some of the crafty shots he is displaying around the basket. What I noticed right away, though, was that he has improved his game defensively. He’s anticipating very well.

I’ll also mention Jack Salt here. He seems more determined offensively. He’s never going to be a dominant low post scorer for Virginia, but I feel he’s thinking less and just going right to his move or shot. I think Salt has also risen his game from a leadership standpoint.

Brandon Lloyd: It’s a subtle improvement and may not be seen by everyone, but for me it is Jack Salt. He is averaging over four points per game and 4.5 rebounds per which is right where he needs to be. His post offense has definitely improved from last year and I don’t get that “oh no” feeling when he catches the ball. Obviously, he is in the game for his defense and physical presence, but I’ve seen an improvement in his overall game from last season. Even down to the little things such as not bringing the ball down once he gets a rebound, is something that he’s done really well this season. He doesn’t get to the line much, but his free throw percentage is up from last season as well and he has already posted a career-high in points just nine games into the season.

Virginia is on break for exams.
Braxton Key could see more minutes with Kihei Clark sidelined. ~ Kris Wright

Who gets Kihei Clark’s minutes while he is out for awhile? ~ RallyEagle

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I’m going to say it is matchup dependent, but Marco Anthony and Braxton Key figure to be the most direct connection for perimeter minutes. Indirectly, however, you could see Mamadi Diakite get some of his projected minutes back if he can stay out of foul trouble. He provides some versatility for the offense with post area touches, but is also a better defender than Key overall for the scheme so far.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Braxton Key averaged about 27 minutes per game before Clark was inserted into the starting lineup. He is averaging only 13 minutes per game since. With his ability to handle the basketball and his versatility, I expect Key to once again have a more significant role while Clark recuperates. I also think Clark’s injury creates an opportunity for Marco Anthony.

Brandon Lloyd: It all depends on game situation as we all know Coach Bennett determines playing time based on matchup. If I had to guess, I would say Marco Anthony’s minutes would go up but I also think Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy will have to be prepared to play even more minutes than they have been at the guard positions. You will see Braxton Key be inserted back into the starting lineup and he can also give them a lift at the guard position if needed. It’s always hard to say who will see more of the minutes because they have three “role players” in Key, Anthony, and Jay Huff who all bring different things to the court. Kihei Clark is a one of a kind type player on this team so different games and matchups should dictate where the minutes come from.

Braxton Key has shown to have good ball-handling skills. Any possibility he will be called on to bring ball up some in Kihei Clark’s absence, especially off rebounds and such? ~ jdubforwahoowa

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Yes, if Key can carve out more minutes in Clark’s absence, he could be used to initiate some offensive possessions. That happened with both Key and Marco Anthony against VCU in the last game and if the coaches want to keep the big three of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter in shot-seeking spots off the ball, you’re going to need someone else to handle the ball some of the time. The interesting part is that the shift toward more frequent ball screens takes a major hit with Clark out of the lineup; he had been using more than 1/4 of the team’s ball screen possessions as the ballhandler with Jerome taking up more than 1/2 himself. No one else had handled the ball much in those scenarios. I don’t see Key being used that way or really Anthony so what sort of tweaks happen to the offense or do the Hoos revert back to their previously preferred ‘off screen’ actions?

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: We have seen Key bring the ball up on occasion, sometimes even pushing it up the court quickly to try and get an easy basket. Certainly, his ball-handling duties may well expand with Clark out, and I think he is very able to handle the challenge. I wouldn’t mind seeing Key push the ball up the court more often off of a rebound to see if Virginia can get some easy buckets.

Brandon Lloyd: Key has shown that he will push the ball up the court off of rebounds and has dribbled into trouble some of the time. I don’t think that will deter him from bringing the ball up the court and I doubt Coach Bennett would want him to be passive, but the bulk of the ball handling will come from Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. I highly doubt you will see Key playing the role of point guard at all especially since there will be very limited time where Jerome and Guy are both on the bench.

What’s plan B on offense when teams learn they can smother our guards on the 3-point line and our shooting goes cold? There used to be a silly strategy that we’ll speed Virginia up and get points in transition that never played out. Now there is a lot of game film to show that you can be more physical and smother the 3-point line – that’s how to compete with Virginia. So what’s our counter and when will it emerge? ~ Five Pillar

Do we have a problem with physical teams? ~ zh00s

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: The solution, if you want to call it that, to defending Virginia is to guard the 3-point line heavily, especially with an effort to try to prevent catch-and-shoot opportunities for the strong shooting guards. Teams frequently prefer lock-and-chase defense, meaning get close to the cutters, be physical, and follow them off the screen vs. trying to get around it or taking shortcuts. Bump and bother as much as possible without getting whistles. Of note, that’s not a Virginia specific strategy as much as it is a strategy to disrupt any teams that use off-ball screens frequently and who have good shooters.

The counter actions to that already have been on display in my opinion. First, UVA has mixed in more ball screens and other variations to its offense. The Hoos are feeding the roll man more than before in those plays too. Those didn’t work as well against VCU so coach Tony Bennett shifted back to more of the ‘sides’ motion offense that has been the bread-and-butter of the program during its rise.

The real counter, however, isn’t a scheme shift like I suspect Five Pillar wanted to hear. It’s a mindset shift. We’ve heard Coach Bennett answer pace-related and scoring-related questions many times by saying the key is to find a way to get more easy points and he usually references free throws and offensive rebounds there. So far, both of those areas are up this year and that can counter scoring droughts and physical play from opponents. The Hoos’ halfcourt free throw rate last year was 10.6% and that’s up to 14% this year. UVA only got offensive putbacks 4.5% of the time last season and that number is up to 6.1% so far this season. Both of those showed up against the physical VCU defense that brought this back to the discussion table this week. UVA had 12 offensive rebounds and 9 second-chance points to go with 30 free throw attempts (26 of 30) in the win.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Great question, and I agree wholly with the substance. De’Andre Hunter was a great answer for this last year, and I think he is a major key again this year because of his ability to post up and take defenders one-on-one. A consistent low-post presence would help. Again, Hunter can help there, but Mamadi Diakite stepping up the way he did at the end of last season would be nice to see. Additionally, Virginia has to be able to make plays off the dribble more consistently. What should help, especially when Clark returns, is the ability to go small with Key and Hunter at the posts. I think this creates more spacing and better lanes for driving, and with that lineup all five players have the ability to drive.

Brandon Lloyd: I think the “what happens when the shooting goes cold?” question is silly when it comes to the game of basketball because every single team at any level of the game is going to miss shots, sometimes in high quantities, in some games. UVA shot very poorly against VCU but showed the ability to get to the free throw line and connect on shots late in the game.

The Hoos are going to the free throw line at their highest rate this season since 2014 so that is one way to “counter” an opponent that plays good perimeter defense. De’Andre Hunter is a really good post and mid-range scorer and Braxton Key is physical enough to score in the post as well. Unlike past years, I think UVA has shown the ability to play very physical this season and did a good job against teams like Dayton and VCU who will try to bully you underneath. Every team’s gameplan is to force UVA off of the 3-point line, yet UVA is shooting around 40% so far and has made 75 of them. Shooting will go cold, yes, but that can be said for any team and Virginia’s defense, as it always does, will keep them in almost every game.

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