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Inside the Numbers: Virginia dominates paint in win over Wisconsin

uva virginia basketballThe knock on Virginia last season was the lack of presence in the post, which was painfully obvious in the season-ending loss to Florida in the NCAA Tournament.

When the ‘Hoos struggled from the perimeter, basically, they were doomed, was the book.

UVA’s rebuild of its game in the paint is a good subject for an Inside the Numbers column, because you have to do a deep dive into Virginia’s 49-37 win over Wisconsin on Monday to appreciate a few things.

One, the Cavs outscored the Badgers in the paint 34-18, and outrebounded their Big Ten foes 39-30, including a 14-9 edge on the offensive boards.

These numbers make you think: hey, the post guys, doing their thing.


Well, kinda, sorta.

Jack Salt, the starting five, had four points on 2-of-2 shooting, and eight rebounds. Isaiah Wilkins, the starting four, had two points on 1-of-3 shooting, and 10 rebounds.

Mamadi Diakite, the only big off the bench to get minutes Monday, had four points on 2-of-5 shooting, and five rebounds.

Going by one way of looking at things, then, you’d do some quick math, come to a total of 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and 23 rebounds, and say, OK, they did their job on the boards, but the offense is still lacking.

That’s the old way of looking at things, when you go back to the 34-18 advantage in points in the paint, and come to realize that it’s not a law that you have to get your points in the paint from your bigs.

Virginia finished 13-of-22 on shots at the rim, layups and dunks. Guard Kyle Guy, all 6’2”, 165 pounds of him, was 5-of-5 on shots at the rim in the game, and 6’5” guard Devon Hall was 2-of-3.

All told, the UVA backcourt was 9-of-14 on shots at the rim on the night, while the bigs were just 4-of-8.

Gone are the days when guards passed the ball around the perimeter looking to eventually dump the ball to a 7-footer who would either dropstep or shoot a hook shot inside of five to seven feet.

Dribble drives, that’s where the game is now. Guards need to be able to get into the lane, and then be able to finish.

This is particularly true in Virginia’s mover-blocker offense, where the fours and fives are constantly setting screens for guards, and either popping – running out to a perimeter spot for a pass for a possible open jumper – or rolling to the rim looking for a backdoor pass.

It’s rare to see a UVA big set up back to the basket against a defender in the post, get an entry pass, then back the defender into the lane for a post field-goal attempt.

It happens – we saw Salt, Wilkins and Diakite each score one basket Monday night under those conditions – but it’s not the way things work in the Virginia attack.

And honestly, if you watch much NBA, think Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, practically everybody else, it doesn’t work much that way there, either.

Virginia is better in the paint not because Jack Salt is the next coming of Ralph Sampson, but because Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and Ty Jerome are head and shoulders better than they were last year breaking down perimeter defenders and getting to the basket.

How their efforts translated into exactly zero free-throw attempts for the ‘Hoos Monday night is another story for another day.

Column by Chris Graham