Inside the Numbers: UVA struggles, again, against zone

UVA basketballDuke, you may remember, took control in its first matchup with UVA by mixing in zone in the final 10 minutes, limiting the ‘Hoos to 4-of-15 shooting down the stretch.

Virginia Tech, then, you may have to strain to remember, beat Virginia last February in JPJ with a zone that forced the Cavaliers into shooting an ungodly 38 threes.

Notre Dame, this year’s Notre Dame, isn’t Duke, it’s not Virginia Tech, it’s not Syracuse, which uses a 2-3 as its base defense.

Mike Brey went zone because his roster is depleted, and man didn’t work in an 82-55 loss in South Bend last month, so, what the hell, zone might work, might as well try it.

Brey kept his team in it until the final seconds in what turned into a 60-54 loss, in a game that was tight into the final seconds.

“I thought we defended well. We really guarded them. We’re certainly offensive challenged, so we’re going to have to guard. I thought we really defended them well,” said Brey after the game, in which his Irish held Virginia to 36.5 percent shooting.

More to the point: the kind of shots that UVA took.

Most glaring: the 23 threes, representing 44.2 percent of the Cavaliers’ shots from the floor.

On the season, 37.1 percent of Virginia’s shots come from three.

Next: Virginia was just 4-of-7 on shots at the rim – layups or dunks.

What that works out to is 13.5 percent of Virginia’s shots coming at the rim.

The season number: 36.6 percent.

What you get then is a lot of two-point jumpers, the shots that the analytics people say are bad, because they’re from further out, they tend to be contested, and if they go in, they’re only worth the same that a layup or dunk.

My math had 42.3 percent of Virginia’s shots against Notre Dame were two-point jumpers.

Season average: 26.3 percent.

UVA shot 7-of-22 (31.8 percent) on those shots against Notre Dame.

Season average: 37.3 percent.

So, Virginia shot a lot more jumpers, in general, more threes, in particular, a lot more contested twos, and didn’t shoot as well on the jumpers.

This was the case in the last 10 minutes at Duke, it was the case game-long in the loss last season to Virginia Tech, and I think we can say, there’s a trend here.

How you attack it is how Virginia tried to attack it Saturday. You put somebody in the middle of the zone, in the area of the free-throw line, and try to attack from there.

UVA used De’Andre Hunter primarily in that role, and his numbers – 6-of-11 shooting, getting to the foul line for seven attempts, two assists, no turnovers – would suggest that he did about as well as you could expect.

Ty Jerome, unfortunately, was almost completely neutralized. Jerome finished with eight points, but was just 2-of-9 from the field, and significantly, was 0-of-6 on two-point shots.

Jerome is at his best breaking down defenders on dribble-drives, touching the paint, hitting that teardrop jumper, and then when the opponent sags off to try to take that away, using the sliver of space he gets to drain open threes.

Against the Notre Dame zone on Saturday, Jerome seemed content to drift around the perimeter, making him so much less effective in terms of being a scorer, and he also didn’t have much impact in terms of assists.

Jerome, memorably, had 11 assists (against two turnovers) in 37 minutes in Virginia’s 68-61 win at North Carolina on Monday.

Saturday against Notre Dame, Jerome had three assists, and three turnovers, in 36 minutes.

You’re going to need to see Jerome attacking more against the 2-3 – and I’ll expect Buzz Williams to use it Monday night in Blacksburg, and we know we’ll see it next month in the Carrier Dome.

Column by Chris Graham


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