Inside the Numbers: #2 UVA might not be overrated after all

uva basketballOK, I’ll cop to it. I thought as of about 2:55 p.m. Saturday that this year’s UVA basketball team wasn’t what its rankings said it was.

No way this team was #2 in the nation, not even close.

The pre-ACC schedule was atrocious, which isn’t Tony Bennett’s fault. South Carolina was in a Final Four two years ago, and stinks this year.

Middle Tennessee, good last year, stinks this year.

Marshall, good last year, so-so this year.

You can only schedule teams. Can’t make them play to expectations.

Florida State was going to be a test that the ‘Hoos weren’t going to pass, and I was OK with that.

I liked FSU being the first ACC test. The Seminoles are big, athletic, deep.

The game was going to be a possession-by-possession game.

I mean, Florida State is ninth in the country, played in the Elite Eight last year.

I admit to fully expecting the ‘Noles to leave JPJ with a win.

I mean, again, big, athletic, deep, Elite Eight.

And then, opening minutes, it played the way I expected. Ty Jerome threw up an awkward runner, off his wrong foot, on Virginia’s opening possession, and FSU led 8-4 at the first media timeout.

FSU seemed to be bothering Virginia with its length and athleticism.

Midway through the first half, we had the slog that I had expected. Tight game, playing the way last year’s game in Tallahassee played out.

And then: Cavalanche.

Actually, can we call it a Cavalanche, when it happens in the first half?

The Cavalanche effect is supposed to come in the second half, when the opponent, exhausted from having to run its offense against the Pack-Line, and having to defend the motion offense for 25 or so seconds on the other end, runs out of juice.

FSU didn’t run out of juice: it was just outclassed.

A 24-8 Virginia run to close out the first half made it 42-23 at the break, and the game was over.

It was so bad that Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was reduced, by way of saving face, to leaving in rotation guys to full-court press Virginia’s walkons to fuel a 16-0 game-closing run in the final 2:01 to make it look like his team only lost by 13.

If he honestly thinks his team is anywhere near the Top 25 after that BS, well, enough about Leonard Hamilton and his bush-league antics.

Karma, it will come.

Ahem.

Back to the point of this column: maybe Virginia is as good as everybody else thought.

The ‘Hoos led by 29 with two minutes to go before the nonsense at the end with two of its top guys – Jerome and De’Andre Hunter – shooting a combined 4-of-19 from the floor.

It helped that Braxton Key, who began the season in the starting lineup, but had been averaging 17 minutes a game since being sent to the bench in the Battle 4 Atlantis final win over Wisconsin back on Black Friday, had the best game of his brief UVA career.

Key, a junior transfer from Alabama, had 12 points in the first half, and 20 for the game, shooting 7-for-11 from the field in 26 minutes.

Key also had six rebounds, helping, surprise, UVA to actually outrebound the much bigger (have I emphasized that enough?) ‘Noles, 36-32.

Kyle Guy also continued his bonkers shooting of late, scoring a game-high 21 on 7-of-11 shooting, including going 5-of-6 from three-point range.

Jerome had six points on 2-of-11 shooting, with six assists and one turnover, so, credit there.

Hunter also finished with six points, on 2-of-8 shooting, to go with six rebounds.

It’s been a lackluster past few weeks for Hunter, distressingly. Hunter is averaging 9.8 points a game over Virginia’s last five, shooting 12-of-37 from the field (32.4 percent).

Yeah, ugh.

Room for concern.

But when your defense is working as good as Virginia’s was on Saturday, well.

Even with the absurd flurry in the last 2:01, FSU scored 52 points on 62 possessions, .839 points per possession, for those keeping score at home.

Since this column is called Inside the Numbers, I’ll let you know that FSU scored 16 points on its eight possessions in the final 2:01, so for 38 minutes, the ‘Noles scored 36 points on 54 possessions, .667 points per possession.

This is a Top 10 team that played in the Elite Eight last year, to refresh your memory on that.

And big, athletic.

Deep.

Pretty good afternoon for a defense that came in ranked just fifth nationally in defensive efficiency.

Just fifth. Did you catch that?

But, I’m serious. Room for improvement there.

All things considered, damn, that was impressive.

Which is why: I apologize.

I take it all back.

This UVA team is as good as advertised, and I think better than last year’s team, because it’s more versatile, has more weapons on offense.

We should all sleep well tonight, is what I’m trying to say.

Column by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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