Common Factors

Posted on January 9, 2020 in The Team by Seattle Hoo.

Virginia's three losses this season share a common factor (I'm sure more than one, but this one was big). In all three, an opposing guard started the game off hot, and that player's hot shooting gave his team a scoring advantage and the initiative in the game. Virginia was put into the position of chasing the game.

Against Purdue, poor Virginia screen defense allowed Sasha Stefanovic to bury three three-pointers in three minutes on his way to 6-10 3FG shooting and a career high 20 points. Stefanovic's mates joined him in raining death on the Hoos, as the previously frigid Boilermakers boiled over for 7-15 from the arc, giving the team a 13-25 tally, more than twice their season average to date.

Then when South Carolina came into the JPJ, guard Jair Bolden hit his first 5 shots for 13 points on his way to a 22-point outburst. Many of his shots were taken over Kihei Clark, against whom Bolden had at least half a foot in height. Bolden more than doubled his season average in points, although he did come in as a 39% three-point shooter.

Finally, in the Hoos' recent loss at Boston College, freshman Jay Heath went off for 17 points on 6-8 shooting, 3-5 from the arc. His scoring fit this pattern less than did the others, but it was his back-to-back threes that turned a 12-6 lead into 18-8 and really forced the Cavaliers to chase the game.

Going back to last season and looking at the Florida State loss in the ACC Tournament, three of the four losses share another common trait: Kihei Clark's man bullying and shooting over him to key his team's win. For Florida State, point guard David Nichols led the Seminoles with 14 points on 6-8 shooting, and it was his backing down of Clark in successive possessions of the second half that gave FSU the crucial initiative in that game. South Carolina's Bolden and BC's Heath had their big games mostly against Kihei, and mostly by using their size advantage. Bolden just shot over the top of Kihei, while Heath both bullied Clark into the lane and shot over the top from outside.

None of these games can be laid completely at the doorstep of these common features, of course, but they did play an important role in all the losses. The Boston College game, however, could be argued to have been lost BECAUSE of Kihei's size. The Eagles got 6-8 points that Heath probably would not have scored against a 6-1 Clark, and the Hoos lost 6-8 points on driving layups Kihei missed and probably would have made if he were 6-1. That's a 12-16 point swing and clearly enough by itself to throw the outcome of that game the other way.

What does all this mean? Nothing shocking. We knew coming into the season that the backcourt was going to be our challenge and that perimeter defense would be vulnerable. With a true freshman, a slides-challenged and inexperienced sophomore, a JUCO transfer and a 5-9 guy as the guards, defense was going to be an adventure.  This will continue to be an area that will cause the Hoos trouble. The other lesson is that big, strong guards who can control the dribble against Kihei and keep him out of their cylinder are going to be able to get good looks pretty much at will. This is something that is not going to change.

Syracuse is an opponent whose guards we can control.

Florida State is big trouble. Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker are big, burly guards, and with Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams, they have guys who can go off. Georgia Tech, NC State, Wake Forest - all have point guards who can score a lot of points, but none of them has the size and physicality to overpower Clark. The Mong00se is capable of locking up each of them, and they are all prone to turnovers - especially Alvarado of Tech. Then Florida State comes to the JPJ for the return engagement. That is the next six games: four where the backcourt matchup is one the Hoos can control, and two where the backcourt matchup is extremely problematic.