It was a happy coincidence that the Hoos had the bye after their ninth ACC game. It gave us time to pause and reflect on the first half of the ACC schedule as we prepare for the biggest two-game stretch of the season. With nine games in the books, we can start to draw solid inferences from the statistics.
The highest Average SPI in ACC play belongs to De'Andre Hunter, who has an average SPI of 20.78 per game. For those who do not yet know what SPI stands for, it is the "Successful Possessions Index", which is a count of the number of Possessions in which a player directly contributes to the successful completion of the possession. For a more in-depth discussion of the Successful Possessions Index and a listing of the plays included, see the SPI About Page. Thus, per game, Hunter contributed to the most successful possessions.
Kyle Guy is second with an average of 17.56 per game, followed closely by Ty Jerome at 17.11.
If we look at SPI per 100 possessions, Mamadi Diakite leads the team at 25.61 SPI/100PP, with Jack Salt being next with 23.12.
The SPI can be further subdivided into SPIO for offense and SPID for defense (my favorite - it's just so much fun to say "spid"). The leading Average SPIO belongs to Ty Jerome, 10.89 per game, by the slightest of margins over De'Andre Hunter's 10.78. Kyle Guy is a "distant" third at 8.89. At this point last season, Jerome led UVA with 9.89, ahead of Devon Hall at 9 and Guy at 8.
Jerome's lead in SPIO grows when we slice it per 100 possessions, at 12.31 per 100 possessions, ahead of Hunter's 10.83/100PP.
Now for SPID. Mamadi Diakite is the SPID leader at 10.11 SPID per game. Hunter is second at an even 10. Braxton Key is not far behind at 9.78 SPID/Game.
Looking at SPID/100PP shakes things up a bit. Diakite's 15.74 is a full point ahead of Jack Salt's 14.45. Key is third at 13.52, and everybody else on the team comes in below 10.
Last season, Isaiah Wilkins was ACC Defensive Player of the Year with an average SPID of 12.44 (14.89/100PP - less than Mamadi's this year).
Many of you are aware of The Hoos Place Glue Hoo of the Game. Mamadi Diakite is the Glue Hoo of the First Half of the ACC Season. He leads the team at 13.56 per game. Jack Salt is second with 11.11, and everybody else is far behind.
Most Efficient Lineup
Nine different lineup combinations have been used for at least 50 possessions in ACC play, ranging from the current starting lineup of Guy-Jerome-Hunter-Diakite-Salt for 195 possessions, down to Clark-Key-Guy-Hunter-Diakite. The most efficient of these lineups for "Net Efficiency" (OEff - DEff), is Clark-Guy-Jerome-Hunter-Diakite, with a NetEff of 0.47 (1.29 - 0.82) 0n 67 possessions.
For comparison, the starting lineup has a NetEff of 0.36 (1.2 - 0.84).
The most offensively efficient lineup with 50+ PP is Key-Guy-Jerome-Hunter-Huff with a 1.45 OEff on 57 possessions.
The most defensively efficient lineup is Clark-Key-Guy-Hunter-Huff at 0.74 DEff on 71 possessions.
Based on these numbers, if the season ended today, De'Andre Hunter would be my UVA candidate for ACC Player of the Year, with Mamadi Diakite for ACC DPOY.
Hunter, Jerome, Guy, Diakite and Key all would be candidates for an All-ACC team, based on conference SPI.
In our last podcast published just yesterday, I waxed hypothetical about ways the Cavaliers might choose to attack Duke today. Today I think that what I said "we might see" is unlikely, because it is too far removed from what we normally do. Listening to Jordan Sperber and Gibson Pyper on Pyper's "The Basketball Playbook Podcast", then reading a couple of posts from my friends, I think Sperber was right with his suggestion that Sides itself with a couple of specific tweaks will be Bennett's answer to Duke's defense. He also suspected Duke will not switch everything like they did in Durham, because K knows that it was poorly executed and quite vulnerable to being exploited by a well-prepared Virginia side. We might see them eschew switching and instead go heavy deny - old-fashioned Duke defense and suited for The Best Defensive Guard In All of College Basketball.
Sperber's indictment of Duke's execution affirmed an argument I've been making for a couple of years based on watching Buzz Williams game plan us: that changing defenses is an effective tactic against Virginia even if your team doesn't execute the defenses particularly well. That also means the tactic could be effective for the Hoos when an opponent just seems to have a rhythm against the PacklineTM. It doesn't happen often, but it happens against Duke regularly, because they regularly have players who are simply that good. Being able to throw a change of pace at them could be helpful. I thought it was needed in Cameron.
Virginia has not beaten Duke in Charlottesville since 2013, when Joe Harris went off for 36 points and he and Akil Mitchell put up insane SPI and Glue numbers. Mitchell has the #1 SPI in the HOOS Place database with 35 and Harris is #2 with 34 in the same game. Mitchell's 25 Glue Index is tied at #1 with Isaiah Wilkins in the 2017 UNC-Greensboro home opener, and Jack Salt in the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship. In 2015, Duke's freshman avatars went otherworldly from the arc down the stretch, and in 2017 Jayson Tatum went Demigod Mode. Is it a coincidence that the last time Virginia beat Duke in the JPJ a future pro went crazy on them? You don't beat Duke in a big game without at least one NBA player, and this year it might take two. It very likely will take 80+ points to win this game.
Mamadi Diakite is my X-factor today. If he stays consistently focused and the referees show some respect and restraint, Mamadi can be Akil to Zion Williamson's Jabari Parker, while contributing important points on the offensive end. Look, Duke is vulnerable to the pick&roll roll man, and if Virginia remains on task, Diakite is perfect to exploit that. A couple of blocks, a couple of dunks, these can have a moral impact at home. The big dunks are best saved for home games.
It's a big game not just in the 2019 ACC race and in the drama of the season, but also in recruiting. Bennett has pulled out all the stops and is making this a big recruiting event. It is possible that the entire 2019-21 recruiting classes could be on hand. The 2019 signees Casey Morsell and Kadin Shedrick are present, as are 2020 target Henry Coleman, 2021 commit Carson McCorkle, 2021 prospect Carter Whitt, 2021 prospect Trevor Keels, 2021 prospect Cam Hayes and 2021 prospect Josh Taylor. There might be more, as unconfirmed reports have 2020 target Terrence Williams also making the trip. A big win would make a great impression.
A Final Four In February
The Hoos are playing a virtual Final Four in February: Saturday - Monday; Duke - Carolina; the hype of College Game Day and Big Monday. I wish I had more confidence, but historically - under Bennett and before - these are the games Virginia rarely wins and Duke rarely loses. I just can't get 2015 out of my head. But these are the games Virginia has to win to be a national champion. It feels like a dress rehearsal, or an audition. Like in 2015, this game can confirm Virginia as a true title contender, or it can feed the suspicions and doubts. That February 2015 day was when Virginia Basketball had peaked the first time. It feels like a loss would mean the same thing this year. Such are the irrationalities that breeze through a Virginia fan's mind.
The computers, the pros, they all love the Hoos' chances today. Take solace in that.
Oh, and Ty Jerome is going to play.