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A Virginia Preview

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Our pal Brian Leung at asked if we would do a Q&A on the Virginia game; we said sure and asked if he would give us a preview from the Virginia point of view. So here it is! Enjoy.

The Virginia Cavaliers are off to their best start since the Ralph Sampson era, when the Hoos last made Final Four appearances and were relevant in national discussions. They’ve done so by playing slow, bore-you-to-death, terrible-TV-ratings basketball, also known as defense. Head Coach Tony Bennett places a heavy emphasis on eliminating transition points (which has an unfortunate side effect of giving up offensive rebounds). The Hoos also do a lot of double-teaming – guys are taught to help out their fellow defenders, but to quickly get back to their manzone. I call it a manzone because Bennett’s pack-line defense is technically a man-to-man defense, but when your guy doesn’t have the ball, you fall back a bit and cover a zone that’s just inside the 3-point arc. It’s a great way to stop penetration, but not as great to stop a team that’s shooting lights out from beyond the arc, something that at least three, possibly four Duke players can do.

In any event, here’s a look at the cast of players you’ll find at Virginia, beginning with the starters:

Jontel Evans – Bub Evans is our point guard who’s really a defensive specialist. He’s probably the best on-ball defender that Virginia has, and gets 1.7 steals a game (usually coming in key moments or sparking a momentum shift). Evans doesn’t have a particularly strong perimeter shot, but it’s something he’s worked on over the summer, and as the year progresses, we see him taking it more and more often. Still, most teams give him a pretty decent amount of space out there.

Sammy Zeglinski – They don’t call him Captain Clutch for no reason. Actually, nobody calls him that, but it’s something I’m trying to make stick, and it’d be great if you guys could spread the word. While all the spotlight has been on Mike Scott this year, I think Zeglinski is the real heart and soul of this team. He’s a fifth-year senior thanks to a medical redshirt. He’s averaging just under double-digit scoring each game, and at least half of those are from off-balance, buzzer-beating, lead-changing shots. If we’re at the end of the game and UVA is in need of a couple clutch points, better keep your eye out on this guy from anywhere on the court (our side of the court OR yours).

Joe Harris – I really think Joe Harris was snubbed of freshman All-ACC honors last year. Aside from Scott, this sophomore is the only other guy on the team averaging double-digit scoring. He’s still young, but he’s got a fair amount of experience, having been a role player last year. Harris has a real pretty baseline three that he’ll bust out on any occasion, but he’s also got a strong mid-range game that he creates on his own. When Joe Harris struggles, Virginia’s entire offense struggles. Just look at last week’s Miami game. Going down the stretch, Harris is the last guy you want to foul.

Mike Scott – Everybody in the ACC has heard of this guy. He’s the frontrunner, in many blogger and ESPN minds, for ACC Player of the Year, because without him, Virginia wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today. I’m not sure how much of a scouting report you need on him other than that he is the team’s go-to scorer and fearless leader. He’s also a fifth-year senior on account of a medical redshirt last year. He can rebound, he can post up, he can fade-away, he can hit free throws, and a lot of times he can play defense on and off the ball. He’s probably the toughest Cavalier to defend because he’s got such an arsenal of shots and moves down under.

Assane Sene – Sene’s oven mitts are slowly morphing into hands as his career has progressed. In practice, you can always find a football in the corner, and everyone knows that’s for Sene to work on simply catching the ball. He has been relatively streaky as of late, but at a reported 7 feet tall, his presence is always noticed on the court, whether it’s in shot-blocking or ripping down defensive boards.

There are some other guys on the team as well, but not very many, as Tony Bennett only has nine scholarship players right now. This includes Akil Mitchell, a sophomore defensive star who occasionally busts out some crowd-roaring offensive shots. There’s also Malcolm Brogdon, a freshman who’s been getting more and more minutes (which minutes are probably a big reason for the recent transfer of KT Harrell) and can hold his own offensively.

All in all, Virginia is looking for a low-scoring, slow-paced game to throw Duke out of its comfort zone. If this becomes a shootout, I have to think that the Hoos have very little chance of getting out of Cameron with a win. If Bennett gets to dictate the tempo, then an upset may be a’brewin.

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