The Dark Lord Falls
"There are no dominant teams in college basketball this year," the national media keeps telling us, but there is one team that is 20-1, with its only loss on the home court of a top 10 team, and 9-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, this year's first or second best conference in the country. That team just won a home game against the #18 team in the country by 25 points - a margin that was 70% of the losing team's points - and beat the #4 team in the country on its home court - holding its #1 ranked offense to its lowest output of the season by 15 points (20% of the previous low).
North Carolina? Syracuse? Louisville? Nope. If it were one of those perennial powers, it most likely would have been discussed as a dominant team two or three weeks ago. That team is Virginia - hence there being no dominant teams in college basketball this year.
For the first time in 23 years, the Virginia Cavaliers walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium and strolled out with a win, 65-63. Unlike that last win that was against the worst Duke team in many years, these Cavaliers vanquished the consensus most talented team in the country, a team that starts four probable one-and-done players. It was only the 3rd time Duke had lost a top five matchup in Cameron in my lifetime, and the only time since 2001. The magnitude of this win for Virginia, and the size of the stage, is almost unprecedented. It certainly is the biggest regular season win for post-Sampson Virginia Basketball.
Any questions that may have hung in the air over the 2016 recruiting class's readiness for the big stage have been answered. Forty-four of Virginia's 65 points, 15 of 31 rebounds, 9 of 12 assists and 5 of 8 steals against only 2 turnovers were tallied by the four members of the 2016 class who played. Sophomore Kyle Guy was the leading scorer with 17; sophomore Ty Jerome dished out 7 assists against 1 turnover; and redshirt-freshman De'Andre Hunter was perhaps Virginia's most dynamic player with 12 points before going out of the game with a sprained ankle at the 5:00 mark. Redshirt-sophomore Mamadi Diakite - who entered school in 2015 but was recruited in that same 2016 cycle - provided attitude and some timely offensive rebounding.
The Cavaliers overcame a shaky start that only those fortunate enough to be in Cameron witnessed due to the overtime in the NC State-Cheatolina game to grab the initiative with a 9-0 push. Virginia missed its first six shots from the floor while Duke's marvelous Marvin Bagley, III and wonderful Wendell Carter, Jr. dominated on the other end with three quick buckets from around the rim. Only Guy's three free throws when fouled on a three-point attempt by the infamous Grayson Allen kept Virginia in contact early. With Duke leading 6-3, Guy started the Virginia surge by driving into the lane and lofting a floater over the Duke big men.
The Blue Devils drifted away from what had given them the quick lead - shoving the ball deep into the paint to Bagley and Carter - and resorted to three point shots, which is not their strength. At the other end, Virginia was spreading out Duke's pressure man-to-man defense, with Hunter matched up on Bagley. What looks like a physical advantage for the 6-11 Bagley over the 6-7 Hunter was in fact a mismatch in Virginia's favor, as some analysts had foreseen. With Hunter holding the ball at the left elbow, Jerome lost his defender on a back cut and Hunter led him to the backboard with a perfect bounce pass for the 7-6 lead. Next time down, Duke's freshman defender tried to go over a screen when Virginia senior Devon Hall made a baseline cut through the lane, and Hall nailed the wide open corner trey - a shot he almost never misses. With the Duke error it was 10-6 Virginia. Virginia followed that up with a dunk by junior Jack Salt. With Jerome dribbling between the circles, Hunter came out to set a high screen, dragging Bagley with him. Jerome refused the screen and attacked the lane, drawing the 6-11 Carter and lofting a lob pass to Salt assaulting the rim's weak side. The invaders now had a 12-6 lead and the initiative in this battle.
Like any well-coached team, Duke re-focused. They went back to the inside game. The two teams traded baskets as Bagley and Carter were too much for Virginia to stop, and the Hoos countered by continuing to attack the paint against Duke's porous man-to-man defense.
Virginia made the next move. It was 18-14 when Guy hit his first three, then Carter tried to match him and missed badly. Hunter had Bagley boxed away from the boards, allowing Virginia to get the rebound, then at the other end Hunter popped out from the lane to the arc, pulled Bagley to him with a pump fake, and drove around the big man to finish at the rim over Carter. It was now 23-14 and the Rat Lord called a time out to marshal his troops.
Duke came out attacking the basket with Duval off the dribble. The teams traded baskets, but then with Carter on the bench Duke's inside game could make no ground against Virginia's interior defense. The Devils drifted back to the perimeter and fell into a trench at 18. Jerome beat his man on another back cut and feed from Hunter, then again on a dribble drive for a layup and foul. His free throw made it 30-18 for Virginia.
In the last two minutes of the first half, the teams traded missed shots and turnovers, the lone exception being a Carter dunk on a terrible pass that UVA deflected off his heel as he was running by. The ball bounced off his heel and into his path like a perfect lead pass for the dunk. Color commentator Bill Raftery thought it might be the kiss of Lady Luck that would get the Blue Devils going.
Night fell on the battlefield and the teams made bivouac with Virginia holding a 32-22 line. Bagley and Carter had 16 of those measly 22 points, an unheard-of low for the explosive Duke offense. But what else is new with this defense?
For Virginia, Guy, Hall and Jerome had 10, 9 and 7 points.
The two sides regrouped and came out to the court with the same order of battle. Virginia had the first possession. Coach K sent his men out in a passive 2-3 zone defense with an enormous hole in the middle. Keeping the Two Towers back to protect the rim and pushing the perimeter out to maintain contact with Virginia's long-range shooters, the zone invited the Hoos to come into the middle and shoot from "the ACC."
No matter. Jerome dribbled into the gap on the right side of the lane and whipped a pass through the opening to Hall on the other wing. Hall stepped into a room-and-rhythm three that tickled the twine, and the men from Virginia had their largest lead of the game at 13.
The lead would not last. Duke's stratagem would pay off by inducing the Cavaliers to become stationary emplacements and lose their rhythm and aggressiveness. Rather than attacking, the Cavaliers tended to pass the ball around and throw up jumpers. Many of those stagnant possessions gave up fast breaks that enabled the Blue Devils to advance on the Cavalier position.
Taking it possession by possession as the clock marched down, we can see the connection between aggression and success for the Hoos, and how their poor offensive possessions contributed to the Duke counterattack:
- One pass and Hall launches a three. On the other end Duke commits an offensive foul. 35-24
- Players stay in one place, pass the ball around. It goes into Isaiah in the middle. The zone stays on the shooters and eventually Jerome puts up a bad shot. No dribble penetration or player relocation. On the other end, Gary Trent hits 1-2 free throws. 35-25
- No player movement, slow ball movement, no dribble. Guy tries to pass to Zay in the middle. Pass intercepted and leads to a Duke FAST BREAK layup by Duval. 35-27
- No player movement, no dribble. Passed into middle to Zay. Missed shot but offensive rebound and reset. One perimeter pass and Guy hoists a three. No dribble attack. Duke turns the rebound into a FAST BREAK with a beautiful long pass. 35-29
- No player movement, slow ball movement. Ball passed to Zay in the middle, who misses the free throw line jumper. No dribble. At the other end, Bagley drives to the rim and Zay gets picked off. 35-31
- Wilkins is in the middle of the zone, but after several passes, Guy dribbles into the gap from the wing and hits an 8-10' floater over the defense. At the other end, the Hoos get a stop. 37-31
- Wilkins in the middle. Pass goes in to him, he misses the shot. No player movement, no dribble. Duke turns the rebound into a FAST BREAK Gary Trent, Jr. three-pointer. 37-34 at the 15:05 mark.
- Starts with Wilkins in the middle. He relocates to the baseline and Guy flashes into the middle, then Jerome takes his place, gets the pass, turns and feeds Salt baseline for the flush. No dribble, but attacking pass to the baseline. At the other end, Duke has their five-point possession on the Carter alley-oop three/Wilkins BS foul and Carter dunk on the inbounds play. Tied at 39 at the 14:17 mark, and Hunter comes in for Wilkins.
- Hunter in the middle of the zone. Two perimeter passes and Guy jacks up a three that rims out. No dribble attack. At the other end Salt snuffs out a fast break by blocking Duval's shot. 39-39
- Hall, Guy and Jerome each flash through the high post. Jerome misses the turnaround jumper. No dribble. At the other end, UVA stops the Duke break and Hunter denies the lob to Bagley. Still 39-39
- UVA comes into the attack quickly with Guy flashing into the ACC area and after a couple of passes with no dribble, Dre misses an open baseline jumper. At the other end, Bagley goes left and hits some NBA freak junk. 39-41. Duke takes the lead for the first time since early in the first half at the 12:42 mark.
- Hunter in the middle of the zone. Hall dribbles into the middle from the left wing, misses, but gets the offensive rebound and goes to the hoop again. UVA ball out of bounds. On the inbound play Salt gets Carter 1-on-1 under the basket for the and-1, hits the free throw, and UVA is back on top at 42-41. At the other end, Grayson Allen drives left side, UVA defense falls away to concede, and a foul is called on Kyle Guy, who was never within 5 feet of Allen on the play. Thousands of tweets from UVA fans ask, "Where was the foul? Did you see it?" Allen cashes his free chip. 42-44 at the 11:40 mark
- Several different UVA players flash through the ACC, but the ball gets passed back and forth up top until Jerome hoists one. No dribble. At the other end, after a couple of fouls on UVA, Bagley fakes Hunter into the air and drives for the jam. 42-46
- Hunter in the middle of the zone, catches pass, takes one dribble toward the hoop, then hits stepback J over Bagley's contest. Jerome later called that a big moment for the Hoos. At the other end, the Hoos get a stop. 44-46
- Hall runs the baseline from corner to corner and misses the corner 3 on a catch-and-shoot, but Mamadi flies in from out of the lane for the follow. No dribble, but aggressive player movement. At the other end, Bagley hits a three. 46-49
- Quick attack by the Hoos, Guy launches a corner three that misses, but Hunter flashes to the backboard for the follow. No dribble, but aggressive player movement and no set defense. At the other end, Hunter draws the charge on Bagley. 48-49
- Hall drives baseline and gets snuffed at the rim, but chases down the loose ball and Nigel dribbles into the gap but misses the pull-up mid-range jumper. Duke turns the rebound into a FAST BREAK drive by Grayson Allen and goaltend on Diakite. Good call by the refs. 48-51
- Pass into the middle and out to Guy who catches and shoots, not in rhythm, and misses. No dribble. At the other end, Carter misses the front end of a 1-and-1. Time out is called. 7:12 remains, still 48-51
- Hunter in the middle, attacks the rim on the dribble and scores. At the other end, Trent misses a contested three. 50-51
- Jerome back in the game fires up The Howitzer after some perimeter passing. No dribble. At the other end, Duke turns the ball over on a bad entry pass. UVA now has the 53-51 lead at 6:18.
- Hunter in the middle of the zone. No player movement, no dribble, misses the free throw line jumper. At the other end, Bagley commits insane individual greatness to tie the game at 53 with 5:26 remaining.
- Hunter attacks the zone on the dribble, Carter swats his shot out of bounds. After the inbounds, Hunter attacks down the lane (Allen pushes him in the back on the way by) and scores through the Two Towers, but comes down on a foot and sprains his ankle. Hunter has to leave the game for good with 4:55 remaining. At the other end, Carter misses another front end and now UVA leads 55-53.
- Hall dribbles down the lane and hits a floater. With 4:22 left, UVA leads 57-53.
At this point the game gets crazy. Duke mostly plays zone but not exclusively. It's a good time to take score on the zone offense. The Hoos had 23 offensive possessions during this stretch from 19:00 to 4:22. On 16 of those possessions, they shot without making any kind of attacking dribble. They were successful on 4 of the 16 possessions. One was a pass to the middle and quick pass to the baseline for a flush. Two were offensive rebounds created by attackers flying to the backboard. The last was Jerome's Howitzer.
On seven offensive possessions in this stretch, the Hoos DID mount some kind of attacking dribble move, even if it was just one dribble toward the basket. They were successful on 6 of these possessions and only failed on one.
Of the 12 unsuccessful dribble-free possessions, 3 led to Duke fast breaks. The one unsuccessful dribble attack possession also led to a fast break. These unsuccessful possessions leading to Duke fast breaks accounted for 9 of Duke's second half points.
It didn't matter who set up in the high post area, or if the Hoos flashed several people through it. The difference between success and failure was whether they attacked the basket either by dribbling or aggressive player movement to the rim. This points to execution, and explains why Tony spent much of the second half frustrated with his men.
The Hoos got better as the half went on. They dribbled on only 2 of the first 13 zone possessions and were successful on 3 of those 13 possessions (both dribbles and one no-dribble). In the last ten possessions of our sample, they dribble attacked on 5 of them, and were successful on 7 possessions (4 dribble, 3 no-dribble).
The Hoos began this stretch of possessions with a 35-22 lead. At the end of the 13th possession, they trailed 42-46. At the end of the 23rd possession, they had the lead again, at 57-53.
We're now at the 4:22 mark of the second half with Virginia leading 57-53. The rest of the game can be capsulized as Bagley versus The Cavaliers. following Hall's floater, Duval drives down the right wing, pulls Wilkins away from Bagley then lobs the ball to the big man for the dunk. With Duke falling back into its zone after fullcourt pressure, Devon Hall drives to the basket and tries to pass to Salt on the baseline, but the pass is tipped out of bounds, bringing the last TV time out. Duke switches to man-to-man on the inbounds play. Guy drives baseline but his shot is blocked by Carter. Guy chases down the ball and dribbles out to the arc where he launches a desperation shot clock beater. The ball hits rim and Salt tips it out to Jerome, who resets the offense. But Duke's defense does not reset. It looks like most of the players are setting up a zone and Bagley thinks man. However it happens, nobody accounts for Guy in the corner and Jerome finds him for the open BOOM and a crushing 5-point advantage. Not only do the Hoos get three points on the possession, but Guy's hustle takes 50 seconds off the clock.
Duke was able to close it back to two on a free throw by Duval and a dunk from Bagley after he shoved Wilkins to the floor (seriously, could any other team do that in any other gym without a whistle?). Guy tried to push the lead back to five with another three, but misfired. Duval chased down the rebound and heaved another long pass for Carter streaking downcourt. This time Ty Jerome was ready. Playing free safety, Jerome stepped in front of Carter and intercepted the pass.
Jerome calmly dribbled the clock down, then with the shot clock at :06 faked a pass to press row and fired up The Howitzer one last time. BOOM!
The Hoos had an insurmountable 63-58 lead with just thirty seconds to play. Bagley missed a three and Carter batted the rebound out of bounds. After some difficulty inbounding the ball and a time out, Guy was fouled for the 1-and-1. No sweat.
He missed the front end.
Grayson Allen saw his chance to be the hero again and pulled up for a three in transition. He missed. Jerome got the rebound and waited for the foul. Jerome on the line with his 100% FT shooting? Game over.
He missed the front end.
Bagley, of course, launched a moon shot with the countdown at 10 and at 7.1 it touched down through the hoop. Virginia's lead was down to 2, and the Crazies were at full roar.
Guy sprinted to the corner to receive the inbounds pass and braced for the foul. Two Dukies converged on him and Kyle leaned away from them bringing his arms up. Allen charged into Guy's cylinder like a boxer looking to take a dive.
We all know what came next. Allen was Allen and THIS time Guy hit both ends of the one-and-one, rendering Bagley's buzzer-beating heroics moot. "I'd seen too many shots go in and out," Guy said after the game, " so I wanted the ball so I could get fouled again."
Bagley and Carter were magnificent, accounting for 44 of Duke's 63 points and 29 of their 44 rebounds. The combination of skill and athletic ability with their size is truly game-changing. They also appear to mesh with each other as well as Sampson and Olajuwon did for the Rockets way back when. But the guards didn't play up to their gaudy rankings, clearly out-classed by Virginia's perimeter players. It makes me wonder how far they will go in tournament ball. Bagley could be one big who can make those late game winning plays you need in the tournaments, but if Duke doesn't do something about that man-to-man defense, they're going to have issues.
But as fabulous as Bagley and Carter were, Virginia's team play and the playmaking ability of its quartet of perimeter players was too much. The poise and tenacity the Cavaliers demonstrated is championship calibre.
The Hoos have their fate in their own hands, figuratively driving downhill toward their goal. They just need to be aggressive.
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