The Virginia basketball team picked up a 69-61 win at North Carolina on Monday in a showdown between top 10 teams. UVA currently owns a four-game winning streak against UNC, it’s longest in the series since winning four straight from 2001 to 2003.
The victory pushed the Hoos to 21-2 on the season with Notre Dame up next. That’s a good time for an “Ask The Sabre” segment presented by AskLandis.com.
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Here are a few questions and answers about the Hoos with Sabre Editor Kris Wright and Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne.
Ask The Sabre
What do you think opposing coaches will key on considering what they’ve seen of us so far and what other teams have done to us that have been effective both on offense and defense? Curious as to what you anticipate might be some strategies that’ll be implemented that we maybe haven’t seen or will likely see more of? ~ Oregon Hoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: If I had to single out a couple of things, I’m guessing that opposing coaches are looking for ways to run the Hoos off the 3-point line and force them to be finishers off the dribble. The Cavaliers currently rank sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage at 40.3% shooting. Even though UVA has shown more ability to score off the dribble and earn more free throws this season – and has been getting more post points as well – the 3-point shot is something that can let the Wahoos separate quickly on the scoreboard.
Plus, I think the way to get Virginia off the 3-point line is to play aggressive perimeter defense and that plays into another possible opponent strategy: force more turnovers. The Hoos have had two games this season with just two turnovers (including the last matchup with Notre Dame), but also have shown vulnerability to carelessness with the ball of late. They’ve committed double digit turnovers in four straight games. In a low possession game, losing just 10 turnovers can be a big factor. If an opponent has guards that can bother the Hoos, I’d expect to see the aggressive outside defense continue.
On the other end of the floor, opponents have had some success with a couple of concepts. One is the roll-and-replace action from ball screen offense. This is always a tricky look for sagging man-to-man teams and it has given UVA trouble at times this season. The other is a dribble handoff/toss-back action that can open up 3-pointers. Notre Dame made a couple of 3-pointers that way in the last meeting.
Is there (or should there be) concern about the number and nature of turnovers of late? Better but not great at UNC, but alarming against State, Duke and Miami. All three teams played aggressive man on the perimeter, especially on Kyle Guy as a ballhandler. Fixed? Fixable? Worrisome, particularly come tournament time? ~ Sabre Rattler
What’s with the uptick in turnovers? Teams doing something different to us? Self-induced? A combination of A and B? ~ Lucius
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Yes, there should be a concern with the turnovers. As mentioned above, a rash of turnovers can be costly in a low possession game. Virginia currently plays an average of 63.3 possessions per game. So if you look at the recent four-game stretch with double-digit turnovers (10, 16, 14, 14), the total adds up to 54 turnovers or 13.5 turnovers per game. That’s a turnover rate of 21.3% or one fifth of possible scoring possessions gone through turnovers! With concerns about offensive droughts come NCAA Tournament time next month, that’s a big deal. Many of them have been simple careless decision-making and those are the ones that need to get cleaned up over the next month.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: NC State played good pressure man-to-man defense, but Virginia made some uncharacteristic mistakes in that game for sure. I’d say a combination of the two against the Wolfpack, with maybe a slight tilt toward self-inflicted. Kihei Clark forced too much against Miami, resulting in six turnovers by himself in that game. Certainly more self-inflicted stuff against the Hurricanes. Virginia made some bad decisions against Duke, but with the Blue Devils’ length, Tre Jones’ return, and the way the Blue Devils were shooting, there is pressure to force the issue. As I chronicled in my “Notes” piece following Duke, turnovers really cost Virginia as they tried to keep pace in the second-half. Credit Duke’s offensive and defensive performance, but UVA could have made better decisions and been stronger with the ball.
Virginia had 10 turnovers in total against UNC. Seven came in the first-half. There were three turnovers in the second-half, but none in the final 12:34. Coach Bennett got on them and they responded with a clutch performance down the stretch in Chapel Hill. That’s a great sign in my opinion, as low turnovers are a major part of Virginia’s formula for success. Now let’s see if this gets the Hoos back on the right track down the final stretch of the season and into postseason play.
Any chance Coach Bennett looks to expand the rotation down the stretch? More than just looking to give the core guys some rest and dole out garbage time minutes, but play someone beyond the current 8-man rotation in meaningful minutes? … Does the staff think we need to have one or more of the “other guys” game ready, or do you think we have an 8-man rotation regardless, except in mop-up duty? ~ SuwaneeHoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I don’t believe the rotation will expand beyond the eight players we’re seeing right now. There may be some minutes movement within the players getting playing time, but I don’t expect to see any sort of regular rotation changes.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Barring injury, I can’t see Virginia expanding the rotation. Marco Anthony would figure to be the next player in line. However, against Miami, with Ty Jerome out, he only played one minute. Bennett seems focused on the 8-man rotation at this point.
Jack Salt’s playing time is drifting lower recently. Interested on your take why. Is it just coincidence because of recent matchups and foul trouble? Or is Jay Huff eating into Salt’s minutes? Or is his really poor foul shooting starting to outweigh his defense? ~ unknown
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: First, for the most part, Salt’s minutes have remained pretty consistent. He did have a little foul trouble against NC State and didn’t play as much in the last game against UNC, but if you look at the last seven games ranging from Duke in Durham through Carolina, he’s averaged 19.3 minutes per game. That’s right at his season average of 19.9 minutes per game. Further, Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff have played minutes comparable to their season averages in those seven games as well. Diakite has logged 20.6 per game over the last seven vs. his season average of 19.2. Huff has played 10.7 minutes on average the last seven games vs. his season average of 9.8. So, Diakite and Huff have picked up roughly a minute each (Kihei Clark has played 24.6 over those seven games vs. 25.8 on the season so that lost minute has shifted over roughly it seems like).
With that said, the emergence of Diakite and Huff has given Coach Bennett lineup options for various situations and that’s probably what makes it seem like Salt’s playing time has changed. We’ve seen Huff, for example, playing late in close games against North Carolina and NC State. Diakite ate up 31 big minutes against Miami and played a big role when Notre Dame tried to rally in that road game. Virginia is also purposefully going to Diakite more as an offensive option, particularly early in halves, so his minutes become more visible in that way too.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Is it just me or is Salt not moving as well as we was early in the season? Nothing major, but maybe slightly? He has had back issues in the past after all. Admittedly, I haven’t gone back and keyed in on Jack’s play in recent games and compared it with earlier in the season. Again, not a big drop off, but it’s something that has crossed my mind, particularly with teams being successful on the offensive glass against the Hoos (NCSU stands out with the 16 offensive boards, but UVA has surrendered double-digit offensive boards in 5 of its last 7 games). The emergence of Jay Huff is a big reason, too, because of the offensive punch he brings, but don’t forget about Mamadi Diakite. He also is better offensively and has been playing well defensively. The presence of both of those players are eating into Salt’s minutes in my opinion.
Seven games remaining in regular season. Predictions on how we finish? ~ hoodat
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I think a strong finish is likely based on UVA’s play in the ACC over these last two seasons. The Hoos still have lost just three games in league play in that time frame. Looking at the schedule, 4-3 seems like the worst case scenario (win all at home, lose all on the road) with 7-0 the potential best case scenario. The toughest games on paper look like road trips to Louisville and Syracuse, two games that should be played in front of large crowds. I’ll go with 6-1, the two seed in the ACC Tournament, and a one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament as the likely outcome.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: 6-1. Louisville let leads slip away versus Duke and Florida State, but in general they have impressed me. I think it’ll be a challenge for Virginia to come away with a sweep of the Cardinals. Virginia Tech could be tricky depending on the status of Justin Robinson. UVA has struggled in Cassell – not last year, obviously, but the Cavaliers lost by two in overtime in 2016-17 and by two in 2015-16 with the group that went to the Elite 8. If Robinson is ready to go that could be a game that’s decided late. For now, though, I like Virginia in Blacksburg. Syracuse seems to be trending downward, and then UVA takes on ACC bottom dwellers Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh at home.