Q. Being around a program which is rising is an amazing experience. How giddy are Virginia fans? We thought Bennett was a home-run hire, but it's like he's rounded the bases several times. What are fans saying?
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A. "We love you, please don’t ever leave us." "Take my firstborn, teach him to be like you in every way." I think those are all fair things to hear Wahoos say about Coach Bennett (CTB to his friends at Streaking The Lawn) these days. The run to the conference tournament title last year woke most of us up to just how far he’s taken this program and how quickly he’s done it. And the best part this year? There’s only one senior who sees significant minutes.
Q. We get the defense and most of the offense, but who would surprise Duke fans the most?
A. Marial Shayok is probably the most likely to surprise. A freshman out of Ontario by way of Blair Academy, Shayok has opened a lot of eyes around Charlottesville with his ability to play lockdown defense. Early in the season we got to see some of his silky outside stroke; that aspect of his game seems to have taken a backseat to his role as a face-in-the-fan defender who can spell Brogdon at the 2, Anderson at the 3, or even play on some smaller, more athletic 4s. Another very pleasant surprise has been Isaiah Wilkins (Dominique’s stepson). Isaiah had to take some lumps and bide his time on the scout team, but he’s made something of a resurgence in the last few games. He’s a hard-nosed, rangy wing with a plus midrange jumper. Neither is likely to take over a game, but they can be counted on for a solid 6 points and important rest for the major contributors.
Q. From your perspective, how would you attack the packline?
A. The first step is good defense to force a bad shot and prevent the defense from getting set; Bennett knows this, and it’s a big part of why he emphasizes transition D over offensive boards. If the defense is set, you have to attack it with a ball handler who can beat his man. The biggest difference between years past and 2014-15 is that this year’s squad has the talent to hang with (pretty much) anybody man-to-man. In the absence of a penetrating dribbler, try using lots of action at the top of the key to frustrate the hard hedges that come out on screens. BC did a lot of this and could have been successful if they had the talent to capitalize: weave-handoffs with multiple consecutive screens. When all the previous steps fail, chuck it up as the shot clock expires and pray?
Q. Serious question here: do you think Virginia would beat Kentucky? We think it's possible. UVa puts Kentucky into a game they want no part of.
A. "Would" makes this a very different question from "Could." UK definitely has the guys to win individual defensive battles, as I mentioned above as a way to beat the Pack Line. But I think the Wildcats lack the offensive discipline to break down the Pack Line consistently as Bennett adjusts it during a game. Someone made this analogy at the beginning of the year: Playing against Kentucky (or Louisville) is like trying to drive through a tornado. It’s chaotic and destructive, but if you do everything just right, you can come out the other side of the tornado unscathed. Playing against Virginia is like trying to drive through a brick wall. You can do whatever you want, that damn wall is NOT moving. In 7 games, I’d put my money on the wall to win 4.
Q. Do you think Virginia has a crack at running the table?
A. More than a crack, but it all turns on the next two weeks. If we can get through Duke, @ UNCCH, and Louisville, we will have both gotten over the three biggest hurdles (until @ Louisville at the end of the year) and proven something to ourselves about our place in the national pecking order. As of 11:30 Thursday night, KenPom puts UVa’s chance at an undefeated season at 26.7 percent but the cumulative projected record at 29-1 (17-1 ACC). I think that’s about right. Yes, Virginia CAN run the table but I don’t think it’s very likely. If the season ends with us having won 29 times of the 30 we rolled the ball out, you won’t see me complaining.