The Hoos are coming off a successful Thanksgiving trip to Brooklyn, claiming a new championship trophy for the case at JPJ. Now, they kick off the week at home against Wisconsin as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Here's what I'll be looking for.
A Quick Start On Offense
As always, this section remains until it needs no longer mentioning. I want to mention that I mentally make a check during the game on how I feel it starts. Then I check the official play by play, especially for the score at the ten minute mark of the first half. A combination of the two makes the determination. Vanderbilt was definitely a quick start. The Rhode Island game was a bit of a ragged start but things ended up clicking about five minutes into the game. I think you could make the argument either way. It wasn't as bad as Monmouth certainly, but I don't think I'd call it a legit quick start either.
Introducing the Quick Start Counter
Quick Start: Austin Peay, VCU, Vanderbilt
Not A Quick Start: UNCG, Monmouth, Rhode Island
The counter stands at 3 of 6 on the season or 50 percent. I'm not counting on one against the Badgers but it would be a pleasant surprise.
Wisconsin versus Virginia. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. The announcers are going to harp on the pace of the game, the Bennett connection, the historic paces of the two teams, and so on. It's unavoidable and lazy. But it will happen. The last time the Hoos and Badgers played in the 2013 version of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Wisconsin won 48 to 38 in a contest that would be generously described as offensively challenged. This was a Virginia team that was loaded with future professionals in the lineup: London Perrantes, Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Akil Mitchell, Anthony Gill, Darion Atkins, Justin Anderson, and Mike Tobey.
How many points do I think the Hoos need to score in this game to overcome all of the pace related nonsense? I've scientifically pegged it at sixty five. We might get away with less but sixty five feels like a sure thing. More than sixty five feels like pushing the envelope too much.
Mamadi is coming off back to back excellent performances in the NIT Season Tip-Off against Vanderbilt and Rhode Island. The effort against Vandy was especially superlative. The opportunity will be there to build off of those two performances with a third that could cement a burgeoning breakout season for Diakite. I'm reminded of the mini breakout game by Darion Atkins in the 2012 ACC-Big Ten Challenge victory over Wisconsin at Madison. Darion's efforts were huge in that 60 to 54 victory. Darion's season would later be derailed by a stress reaction in his shin. But a similar breakout by Diakite this year would be immense for the program going forward. Wisconsin offers the opportunity to put everyone on official notice.
Ethan Happ, the redshirt junior big man for Wisconsin, is the best post player we've faced to date. He'll be one of the best we'll face all season. He has the accolades and stats to make that claim. He is the centerpiece of the Badgers attack on offense and we cannot let him dominate the game. Our starters certainly have the potential to limit Happ. I'm not sure we can stop him but that won't be necessary to win. I'm curious to see how often the Hoos try to play Happ straight up and how often the Hoos go with the patented big to big double in the post. I'd expect a variety of each while working not to be predictable in how the defense is deployed.
Free Throw Shooting
Sending the Badgers to the line is not a recipe for disaster. They're only shooting 67.8% from the line on the season per Sports-Reference.com, good for 240th in all of Division 1. Two of their three most frequent free throw shooters on the season, Happ and Khalil Iverson, both shoot under seventy percent. Iverson shoots 66.7% on 2.5 attempts per game. Happ is an egregiously poor free throw shooter. Last season he shot 50.0% on 4.4 attempts per game. So far this year, he's improved to only 55.9% on 5.7 attempts per game.
The Hoos, on the other hand, are shooting 81.4% from the line this season, 7th best in Division 1 to date. Devon Hall, De'Andre Hunter, and Kyle Guy are excellent free throw shooters. And Ty Jerome would be in that category as well if he were shooting more than 0.7 attempts per game as he's yet to miss from the line this year.
The Hoos still aren't getting to the line a ton, only the 277th most attempts on the season, but they are making their trips count. In a close game, free throw shooting should be a big advantage for UVa.
Guy struggled with Rhode Island's pressure defense and length in the NIT Season Tip-Off finals. But Guy also showed the maturity in his game to not force the action. If he were hunting stats instead of victories, he could have found a way to get up more shots and score more points. Instead, Guy worked within the offense and let Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Nigel Johnson do most of the damage on offense. The Badgers don't appear to offer the same sort of length and speed on the perimeter that we saw from Rhode Island. Guy should be able to pick his spots and get where he wants on the court tonight. If he's clicking, it could be a really memorable night for Guy.
Wisconsin is going to play at a pace and with a style that all of our players should be comfortable with. Coach Bennett will be intimately familiar with what the Badgers are trying to do on the court. Will that level of familiarity and comfort, along with playing at home, allow for extended bench minutes? Diakite and Nigel Johnson should log meaningful minutes as the top two bench reserves in the rotation. De'Andre Hunter should as well as Dre's solidly in the eight man rotation. But in a game that's expected to be competitive, will Coach Bennett look to find spots to play Marco Anthony and Jay Huff? The Badgers' starting frontcourt of Happ and Iverson are formidable but maybe Huff can sneak in some minutes against Wisconsin's reserve bigs.
Rare is the UVa fan that feels like the Hoos get fair treatment and adequate respect from the conference in general. Between that and conference mates like Uncheat, Duke, VPI, Syracuse, Louisville, and Miami it's hard to feel genuine admiration for the larger ACC. And don't get me started on the Big East flavor of the conference. But....
I still want to trounce the Big Ten in this challenge. And I want the Hoos to put a check mark on the win side of the ledger. The game tonight is a big one and one I want to win badly. I'm expecting a fired up JPJ crowd despite the late start. The type of crowd that rattles the opposition and inspires the Packline to tighten its vice grip in the halfcourt.
Last year, the ACC won the challenge 9 to 5. It was the first ACC victory in the challenge since the 2008 version and the most wins by either side in the event's long history. Here's to a new record number of wins and back to back challenge victories.
On one hand, the 9 PM start is prohibitive for a recruiting visit. On the other hand, this is the marquee non-conference home game of the season. It's well documented elsewhere that the Hoos did a poor job getting recruits to visit for games last season. The 2017-2018 season is off to a much better start and this game presents a great opportunity for the program to showcase itself. I'm unaware of any reported visits so far, but I'd hate to see the program let this chance slide by without at least a couple prospective recruits in attendance.
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