After a long break due to coronavirus complications, the Virginia basketball team expects to return this weekend. The Cavaliers put their program on pause the night of Dec. 8 and are scheduled to return to practice on Saturday, Dec 19. They own a 3-1 record at this stage of the season.
The interruption forced several games to either be rescheduled or cancelled. William & Mary fits into that first category as that game bounced from a Dec. 12 date (the Tribe went on pause) to a Dec. 13 date (UVA went on pause) to its new landing spot on Dec. 22. That 2 p.m. Tuesday game at the John Paul Jones Arena will be the first for Virginia after its hiatus. The Tribe are currently 2-1, but they have a game scheduled Saturday with High Point before coming to Charlottesville.
Two other marquee game fell into the cancelled category. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge game with Michigan State was axed on Wednesday, Dec. 9 when UVA encountered the issues that forced a program pause. (Note: that game is currently listed as postponed on the official Virginia schedule, but is unlikely to be made up.) There was a small glimmer of hope that the Villanova game scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 19 might be played, but that contest was cancelled as well. The Wildcats have since scheduled a game with St. Joseph’s in its place. Both of those teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally in the current polls.
How do you make up for the loss of star power on the schedule? In Virginia’s case, you set up a game with the current No. 1 ranked team instead. The Cavaliers have agreed to face Gonzaga, the preseason and current No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll, on Saturday, Dec. 26 in Forth Worth, Texas. That game is scheduled for 4 p.m. with a TV slot on CBS. The Bulldogs are 3-0 with wins against Kansas, Auburn, and West Virginia. The Jayhawks and Mountaineers are currently ranked in the AP Top 10.
Gonzaga, who also had to pause its program, isn’t being shy with its non-conference schedule. In addition to those two wins, the Zags will return to action against Iowa, the current No. 3 team, on Saturday. After a game with Northwestern State, No. 17 UVA will be the Bulldogs’ last nationally eye-catching game in non-con play.
With the unexpected schedule addition, here are a few things to consider from UVA’s perspective with William & Mary and Gonzaga up next.
3-point shooting vs. 3-point defense
The Cavalier defense has allowed 36% shooting from 3-point range, an average number in college basketball but nowhere near what is typical for the Hoos. They haven’t allowed more than 34.7% shooting from 3 (2015-2016) in the last decade and are often somewhere on either side of the 30% range. It’s a small sample size to date and the Towson-San Francisco duo skewed the numbers a bit with 43.8% (7-16) and 46.4% (13-28) outings, respectively. In the two games since, both St. Francis (Pa.) and Kent State shot less than 30%. This matters because William & Mary currently is the nation’s No. 9 3-point shooting team at 44.1% (26-59) with two of its three games checking in at better than 50%.
It’s an interesting note for the Gonzaga game too. If conventional wisdom suggests that you have to make at least some outside shots to defeat Virginia typically, the Bulldogs will face a tough test. They’ve shot just 29.1% on 3’s so far this season and they take them at a low volume with just 27.6% of their attempts coming from downtown. Combined with the tempo note below, this is a clear contrast in styles game.
On the flipside, UVA has hit 37.0% of its 3-pointers (30-81) and has multiple players that can get hot from behind the arc. In terms of 3-point defense, the Tribe have allowed 31.0% while the Bulldogs have allowed 34.3% to date.
Second half scoring
When Virginia fans last saw the team in action, coach Tony Bennett lamented the second half defensive efforts through four games. Against Towson, the Hoos allowed 35 points on 44% shooting with 12 free throw attempts. Against San Fran, the Hoos allowed 40 points on 51.7% shooting with 2 free throw attempts. Against St. Francis, the Hoos allowed 38 points on 38.7% shooting with 7 free throw attempts. Against Kent State, the Hoos allowed 40 points on 55.6% shooting with 4 free throw attempts (but clamped down in overtime to win).
The Tribe has scored 37.7 points per game in the second half this season, but Gonzaga in the marquee matchup is where this will be under the microscope the most. The Bulldogs have scored 47.3 points per game in the second half, which is ninth in the nation. Yes, pace will help some in this category, if UVA is in control of the tempo. The Zags are top 10 at 81 possessions per game, while Virginia is last of the teams who have played at 64.
That last note leads right this final thought. These three teams are good offensive clubs. All three rank in the top 50 in offensive efficiency per Teamrankings.com with both Virginia and Gonzaga inside the top 20. The Hoos have scored 1.156 points per possession (ppp) to rank 11th, while the Bulldogs have scored 1.146 ppp to rank 17th. The Tribe have scored 1.085 ppp to rank 44th. (If you prefer adjusted offensive efficiency to get an estimate of what it would be against an average D1 defense, W&M drops but the Zags are in the top 10 there and the Cavs are in the top 30 per BartTorvik.com.)
If all three can score, then the outcomes may hinge on which defense makes things the most difficult for these usually efficient offenses. As bad as UVA has been relative to what a typical Bennett defense looks like, it still has the edge here. The Hoos have allowed 0.898 ppp to rank 58th among the teams that have played per Teamrankings.com. The Zags have allowed 0.982 ppp to rank 169th among the teams that have played. The Tribe have allowed 1.04 ppp to rank 244th. (Again, if you prefer adjusted defensive efficiency to get an estimate of what it would be against an average D1 offense, the Hoos rank third per BartTorvik.com. Gonzaga is 23rd, while William & Mary drops again.)
No matter how you slice it up, the next two games will provide a final (known) look at Virginia ahead of ACC play. With UVA coming out of the long pause, which includes practice time, it should be interesting to see how things shake out.