Cardiac Hill is teaming up with Virginia's SB Nation blog, Streaking the Lawn, to preview today's big game. While most of the sports world will be thinking Super Bowl tomorrow, fans in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville will be paying very close attention to the game being played at the Pete at 12:30 on ESPNU. Virginia is out to a 7-1 start, while Pitt is right on their heels with a 6-2 start. Pitt is in need of a big win, and they will look to avoid a rare occurrence, back to back losses at the Pete.
One of STL's contributors, Brian Schwartz, came by to talk on UVA's season to date, Joe Harris, and the game itself. So follow Brian if you like Virginia type things, and follow their site's Twitter account since we're all in this ACC together.
Q: Virginia was picked towards the top of the league in the preseason, and they are out to a fantastic 7-1 start, but is there anything behind some of the bad losses like the one to Green Bay and the one to Tennessee by 35 points?
As our ACC start is becoming less and less likely to be a fluke, it is becoming clear that this is just a team that took a long time to gel. The consensus early-season diagnosis was a lack of chemistry, as players struggled to find their roles and Tony Bennett struggled to settle on on a consistent rotation. The problem wasn't defense, where the team maintained a top-5 ranking, but offense, especially taking care of the ball.
The blowout Tennessee loss served as a wake-up call. As you'll surely hear during the broadcast, Joe Harris drove to Coach Bennett's house on New Year's Eve, where they spoke for hours about how they would fix things. The team simplified the offense (going back to last season's more inside-out style), and it allowed players to be more comfortable. Joe Harris has settled into his role, and Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes have really shined during conference play.
Basically, this is the looking increasingly like it may be the type of team that Wahoo fans have been expecting since last spring.
Q: Joe Harris is the most well known player for the 'Hoos (am I doing that right?) what kind of player is Harris, and what kind of season is he having?
Yes, Harris is the man for the Hoos. He's having a much quieter season than last year, when he scored 38 points against Duke, single-handedly vanquishing Coach K (and making him fear for his life). The variety of weapons around him means that, while Harris is still the man, he doesn't have to be "the man," as the attention paid to him means that he could depend more on his teammates rather than forcing shots. (Last yeah, he played 81% of minutes and took 28% of shots, while those are down to 67% and 23%, respectively. Inevitably, this has led to discussion like "WHAT HAPPENED TO JOE HARRIS!?!?!?!!11111"...but he is actually more efficient than ever).
The primary aspect of his game that Pitt fans should worry about is that he is a deadly three-point shooter (17 for 35 during ACC play). However, only about half of his shots this year are from behind the arc, as he has the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and moves well off the ball as well. When he shoots the ball, it's gonna go in the basket.
Q: PItt seemingly always gets labeled as a "tough, defensive minded, and grind-it-out team" and that can overshadow their offense at times. Like Pitt, Virginia runs a tough defense. Do they sometimes get labeled incorrectly? Do they have a better offensive identity than given credit for, or is defense really the name of the game?
The UVA offense has been pretty capable (5th in the conference during ACC play). But no, the label is definitely correct. Defense, where the Hoos rank 3rd in the nation in adjusted efficiency, is the name of the game for Tony Bennett's teams. Fans have really bought into Bennett's system - we love dunks and all, but we REALLY love shot clock violations.
Virginia runs the Pack-Line defense, developed by Tony's father Dick Bennett, which is basically a man-to-man with some zone principles. Four players will be inside a imaginary line a foot inside the three-point line, while the on-ball defender applies heavy pressure. We'll allow passes around the perimeter, but the sagging defense emphasizes helping to cut off any dribble penetration. We'll hedge hard on screens and double the post often. Finally, the team will work very hard to get back and prevent points in transition.
Q: What do you think the additions of Pitt,Syracuse, Notre Dame, and soon to be Louisville do for the ACC?
The whole expansion thing was kinda a bummer. The ACC had a good thing going, and having to add unfamiliar teams and play most "old-school" ACC squads just one time per season was not ideal.
But it all worked out just as well as I could possibly hope for. First of all, expansion has brought the conference stability; there was a time there where it could have been the ACC that was torn into pieces like the Big East was. And adding Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville is about as strong a trio imaginable, especially from a basketball perspective. (Casting Maryland off to the cold of the Big Ten and making them pay a giant exit fee is a nice perk as well).
Q: And of course, prediction time, who is winning on Sunday?
This is surely the toughest game remaining on our schedule, and I know that Pitt will be looking to avenge their loss against Duke. The environment will be hostile, and I believe KenPom's bullish outlook on the Panthers. But, with the kind of basketball we are playing, I just can't pick against UVA. We've blown out ACC 7 opponents and have one loss at Duke, where the Blue Devils required a miracle bounce to hold on for a win. This one could have a feel similar to that matchup in Durham, and I am counting on no miracles holding us back this time. We've done a good job of molding our defense to shut down opponent's stars, and I think'/hope we can do to Patterson what we did to Jabari Parker (3-11, 8 points), TJ Warren (1-9, 4 points), Garrick Sherman (8 points, 5 TOs), etc.
I'll take us pulling the upset in a 63-61 nailbiter, winning on a last-second defensive stand. Looking forward to what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the day!
-- Thanks again for Brian stopping by and helping us learn a little bit more about Virginia, check for my post-game recap on the game right here on Cardiac Hill.
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