It's Sweet Sixteen week! Only a few more days until Iowa State clashes with Virginia in Chicago. Today, Paul Wiley from Virginia's SB Nation site, Streaking the Lawn, stopped by to answer a few questions for us about the Cavaliers and the upcoming game in the United Center.
WRNL: Everyone and their dog has heard of Malcolm Brogdon. For those casual fans, who are the other players to watch on Virginia's roster?
Paul: The two big ones are Anthony Gill (6'8 PF) and London Perrantes (6'2 PG). AG is the bruiser down low. He's got a great array of post moves and has shown a preternatural ability to get shots up and in through some pretty heavy contact. But he can also take the ball outside the lane and work with his face to the basket. He can hit jumpers from 10-15 feet with consistency but also put it on the floor and make the defending big use his feet. Gill is the team cut-up, too: during the ACC Tournament, he filled a teammate's backpack with sugar packets, and is always trying to make Brogdon laugh during interviews.
Perrantes is the floor general, and I think he's within a few months of completing a 100% mind meld with Coach Bennett. He's got vision and confidence for days and knows exactly how the offense is supposed to work. What makes LP dangerous, though, is when he's hunting his shot. He led the nation in three-point shooting for a good chunk of the year, shooting over 50 percent from deep, and is still in the national top 10 at about 48 percent. He works off of screens extremely well and has a quick release. If he brings the aggression, he creates another perimeter headache and frees up Brogdon enough for MB to go off.
WRNL: Earlier in the season, Virginia dropped games to four teams who didn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament in George Washington, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State. Were there any common denominators among those losses, or were they more fluke-like than anything?
Paul: Thankfully they seem to have been fluke-like. The GW game was the first road game, and the first against a decent team under the new freedom of movement rules. It was a whistle-happy game that took the guys out of rhythm on both ends of the court. The other three in ACC play, the offense just didn't show up. Thankfully the buzzer-beater against Wake Forest shook off the road woes, and a romp at Louisville that same week set off a stretch that brought UVa to the cusp of a third straight ACC regular season title.
WRNL: Another question for the casual fans... We'll probably hear about the Cavaliers' pack line defense a number of times leading up to the game on Friday. Would you mind giving us the elevator speech on the origins of the pack line and explain what it tries to keep teams from doing on offense?
Paul: So the pack line started with Coach Bennett's dad, Dick, when Dick was coaching small schools in Wisconsin. The defense is designed to allow undersized teams to control the post through well-coordinated spacing and trapping. It's very much a man-to-man defense, but ends up looking similar to a zone in some respects. In practice there is a physical line taped to the floor about two or three feet inside the three-point line. All off-ball defenders stay under that line, while the on-ball pops out and pressures the ballhandler. When the ball swings around, the defense rotates with it. If anyone gets beat off the dribble, help defense is very close by. If the ball goes to the post, there is usually a post trap that comes over hard and fast, trying to force bigs who don't handle the ball as well to make quick decisions. The goal is to deny open looks from high-percentage areas and invite teams to shoot low-percentage perimeter shots.
WRNL: Besides Georges Niang, which player on Iowa State's roster scares you the most? Why?
Paul: Matt Thomas. The weakness of the pack line defense is three-point shooting. When Virginia has lost this year, most of the time there's been someone on the opposing team who's gotten hot from three. Chrobascz from Butler threatened to do it last round, scoring 24 through the early part of the second half until Brogdon shut him down. Clemson's Jarron Blossomgame did the same. Thomas's 43 percent clip from deep, but with a low usage rate for the season, makes him look like exactly the kind of guy that gives Virginia fans nightmares.
WRNL: Let's hear your prediction. Will the seeds hold true in this matchup, or will the tourney claim another upset victim?
Paul: As a basketball fan, I'm ecstatic about this matchup. As a Virginia fan, I'm nervous. It pits strength against strength with the Cyclones' offense and tempo against the Cavaliers' defense and deliberate pace. Niang is definitely going to get his for Iowa State. The key for Virginia is making sure that no one else does. The talk the past few days among UVa fans is what the defensive matchups would be. I doubt Brogdon will start the game guarding Niang, but he very well may switch over to him if Niang is going nuts.
Iowa State reminds me a lot of North Carolina on paper: athletic bigs, high-tempo offense with great efficiency. ISU is a little better perimeter shooting team than the Heels, but Carolina is a little more dominant down low (especially on the offensive glass). Virginia split their games with UNC this year, which indicates to me this game is going to be nip-and-tuck.
At the end of the day, I think Virginia's offense is enough more efficient than Iowa State's defense that the Hoos get the win. The only ISU loss that the offense didn't show up was Texas A&M. The eleven others, the Achilles heel has been the lack of defense. UVa's 54-point half against Butler shows how the team can operate when they're clicking together. I don't think Iowa State's defense has what it takes to stop Virginia enough times. Virginia 72, Iowa State 67 sounds about right.
BONUS QUESTION: What would you be willing to give up in order to guarantee a Virginia National Title?
Paul: Is first-born child too much? First-born child is too much, isn't it? I would give up beer for an entire year, and I live in the middle of Virginia's craft brewing country. Experiencing baseball's College World Series title last year when I wasn't a die-hard baseball fan, or Virginia lacrosse's national titles when no one outside the college lacrosse world knew about them, I can only imagine what it would be like to have a title in a sport that both I and the rest of the country care about.