The Oklahoma Sooners came out with a purpose in Friday’s win over Ole Miss, and their reward is a game against the No. 1-seed Virginia Cavaliers in the Round of 32. Here to talk about the matchup is Caroline Darney of Streaking the Lawn — SB Nation’s UVA site. Fun fact: Caroline is also our boss, and I encourage you to read about her journey to this point. She earned nearly a dozen awards and honors during her time in the Navy, which is pretty cool!
UVA holds the No. 1 ranking with KenPom, sits at No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency and is No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Is there anything that has made this team tick in 2018-19?
Defensively, it’s the same old, same old for the Hoos. This is actually a bit of a down year for Virginia on the defensive end, but even when they’re not as tight as when they had the likes of Malcolm Brogdon or Isaiah Wilkins, they’re still really good. The Pac Line is predicated on making you work for tough shots, and then hit those tough shots. De’Andre Hunter is a phenomenal defender (he was named the ACC DPOY) and the players know their roles. Inside, Mamadi Diakite can clean up at the rim if things break down.
On offense, this team finally has some dudes. They’re more confident in their ability to go get a bucket when one is needed. Against Duke the first time (a two-point loss) the Hoos and Devils traded blows on the inside before Duke pulled away thanks to a guy you may have heard of named Zion. Against Syracuse, Virginia shot 18-for-25 from three as they just bombarded the Orange. There’s more versatility, and guys like Braxton Key, Jay Huff, and Diakite allow Tony Bennett to throw a few more things out there.
From a style standpoint, Virginia loves to slow things down and is great at grinding out wins. Why do you think this team has been so successful in doing so?
I think a common misconception is that Virginia slows the game down for the purpose of burning clock or literally making things slow. Defensively, the game is slowed down because it’s hard to score on them. On offense, Virginia works it around to find a great shot, even if that’s passing up a good shot. That might not sound like a huge difference (burning clock vs passing it around a lot) but it’s slight. Whether Virginia is running the blocker-mover offense or going to their Continuous Ball Screen offense, you’re going to see a lot of cutting and running off screens (if they’re doing it right). By doing this on offense, they usually also wear out opponents over the course of the game.
Keep an eye on Kyle Guy during a possession, then feel bad for the defender that has to sprint around the court as he makes several cuts and runs through screens set by the ginormous Jack Salt.
The success comes in utilizing their players to get max efficiency on offense, while also making life miserable for teams on the other end.
What makes Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, who tie for the team lead at 15.4 PPG, so effective as players?
Hunter is a legit lottery pick, and when he gets aggressive, you see what he can do. There’s no real weak spot in his game as he can shoot the three, pull up for a jumper, and take the ball strong to the hole. Guy, as I mentioned, is a monster off of screens and has one of the quickest releases in college basketball. Both shoot right around 45% from three on the season, and while Hunter is definitely the bigger driving threat, don’t sleep on Guy in the lane.
Outside of those two, who has the best chance to make a big impact on Sunday?
Ty Jerome, Ty Jerome, and Ty Jerome. Hunter is the best player on the team, Guy is the most dangerous scorer, but Jerome is the one who stirs the drink. He shoots 40% from three, is best on the team in assists, and brings some of that attitude the Hoos need. Jerome reportedly had a virus during the ACC tournament where he struggled, but he went 5-for-10 from the field with 13 points, six assists, three rebounds, three steals, and four turnovers (but ignore those).
The other guy that’s super important is Mamadi Diakite. He’s the inside presence for the Hoos, and he keeps defenses honest. Jack Salt is the bruiser, but -- outside of his 26-point performance in Virginia’s two games in the ACC tournament -- he’s not an offensive threat. Diakite can contribute the most on both ends, and he had 13 points in the second half comeback on Friday.
With three No. 1 seeds, would you consider the ACC to be the best conference this year? Or is it just top-heavy?
A combination of both somehow? The top three are, in my opinion, three of the best teams in the country without a doubt. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech and Pitt were very bad. Like, bad. But that middle chunk is extremely solid. Florida State is a team that legitimately could go to the Final Four (cue them losing to Murray State), and Virginia Tech (shudders) is actually very good and now have Justin Robinson back. Louisville and Syracuse did the ACC no favors in the first round, but the league was very solid.
How much will the opportunity to avenge the 1991 Gator Bowl loss motivate this team in the Round of 32?
Hahaha...considering most of them probably weren’t even born and Tony Bennett probably didn’t watch...I’m going to say not at all.
Considering last year’s events, how nervous were you during the first half of the Gardner-Webb game, and how relieved is the fan base feeling right now?
Extraordinarily nervous. I’ve covered this team all season, and they’re inarguably talented. They came out so tight, but I couldn’t be happier that they shook the demons and got the win. I think (hope) things should be a lot smoother on Sunday with that gigantic albatross off their necks, especially with guys playing so much better than they had in the last couple games.
How would you best describe the rivalry dynamic between UVA and Virginia Tech? What do you hate most about VT fans?
This answers both questions:
Virginia Fans: I’m excited about basketball!
VT Fans: Yeah, well, you haven’t beaten us in football since 2003.
Virginia Fans: wait, what does that have to do with anything?
VT Fans: FOOOOOTBALLLL.
Virginia Fans: Yeah, well win a national championship in literally anything and we’ll talk.
VT Fans: whatever no one even cares about Tennis or Lacrosse.
end scene -
What’s your favorite bar in Charlottesville?
Shoutout Draft Taproom on the Downtown Mall! It’s a self-serve beer spot with a bajillion beers and really good wings. Great spot to watch a game.
Who is your favorite UVA alum?
In the sports sense, I’m going to go with Heath Miller and Chris Long with an honorable mention to Sean Doolittle and Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon. I can’t choose just one. Tina Fey is also a Virginia alumna, so she’s my non-sports one.
How do you see this one playing out? What’s your score prediction?
I see this playing out like a normal Virginia regular season game. Things are close in the first half, with Virginia taking a slight lead into the break before pulling away down the stretch for a comfortable-ish 8-point win? This is all very stressful and not comfortable. Let’s say, Virginia 67-59.
Provided the Cavs get past this round, how do you like UVA’s chances of going all the way?
This team can absolutely go all the way. They battled all season against some of the toughest teams, and they had just three losses all season...all to teams in the top-10. Where as last year’s team was offensively challenged at times (No. 30 on KenPom), this one has much more versatility and options to score when the shots aren’t falling.
Of course, all that said, no one knows better than Virginia fans that the NCAA tournament can be a real b*tch and anything can happen.