Malcolm Brogdon wills top seed Virginia to Sweet 16

virginia malcolm brogdonMalcolm Brogdon and Tony Bennett locked eyes. Brogdon pointed to his chest. Butler was starting to pull away from Virginia early in the second half, and Brogdon was stepping up.

Bennett acknowledged his star, put Brogdon on Bulldogs forward Andrew Chrabascz, who had torched Virginia for 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field as Butler built a 37-34 lead with 16:32 to go, and as it turns out, that was it for Mr. Chrabascz.

“I think Coach Bennett was already leaning towards putting me on or putting A.G. on him. But I definitely did lobby. I wanted to guard him a little bit, and see if I can disrupt him and frustrate him a little bit,” said Brogdon, who held Chrabascz to one point on 0-of-2 shooting from the field in the final 16:32, his defense keying UVA’s 77=69 win.

Never mind that Brogdon had a team-high 22 points, 14 in the second half, on 4-of-4 shooting from the field.

What Brogdon did most that helped send the Cavs to their second Sweet 16 in three years was on the defensive end.

Chrabascz, who had averaged 10.2 points per game coming in, was having one of those rare nights. He hadn’t scored 20 in a game in 2015-2016, but Chrabascz was on an almost unprecedented torrid streak.

Almost unprecedented is the term when you consider that Virginia endured another 9-for-10 streak a month ago when Duke freshman Brandon Ingram had a 9-for-10 stretch over an 11-minute span in Durham.

The answer then was the same: slide Brogdon onto him, and it worked that night, too, as Brogdon held Ingram scoreless over the final 11 minutes, scored the go-ahead bucket with 11 seconds to go, only to see the Cavs lose on the controversial Grayson Allen walk-offensive foul no-call buzzer-beater.

As Bennett did that night, and on March 1 in a win at Clemson, when Brogdon shifted in the final 11 minutes to guard Clemson stretch four Jaron Blossomgame, holding him to five points down the stretch to help the Cavs steal that one, he had to shift the lineup around a bit to accommodate the defensive switch.

unitedrentalsWith Brogdon guarding the four, Bennett inserted guard Marial Shayok for forward Isaiah Wilkins and went four-guard for those final 16 minutes Saturday night.

Shayok scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting and spearheaded the perimeter defense at the top of the Pack-Line.

The move also limited the minutes for center Mike Tobey, who had an efficient night, scoring 10 on 5-of-5 shooting, including six on 3-of-3 shooting in the second half, but essentially Tobey’s minutes were rest minutes for Anthony Gill, who also had a monster second half.

Gill had 15 points in the second half, going 5-for-5 from the field and 5-of-6 at the line, with six rebounds.

Add it all up, and the four-guard lineup worked great on the offensive end: Virginia started the second half 12-of-13 from the floor, ended 19-of-26 (73.1 percent) and scored a season-high 54 points.

But as good as the offense was, it was what the lineup allowed UVA to do on the defensive end that kept the ‘Hoos alive.

“Just like you need plays being made offensively in games like this, you need plays defensively,” Bennett said. “Sometimes our system, we had to stretch, we had to do some unconventional things, but you have to, but you need plays to be made. Offensively and defensively, a guy that can bother a shot a little more. Malcolm is strong. It was a terrific job by him, and the other guys were working, too.”

Important point there. Brogdon wasn’t acting alone in neutralizing Chrabascz. Butler was getting him open on pick-and-pops, taking advantage of how UVA in the Pack-Line aggressively hedges on the ball-handler, with the emphasis on trying to slow down the ball and choke off passing lanes out of the double team.

The approach to pick-and-rolls works best when the big setting the screen tries to roll to the basket, and is most vulnerable when the screener can pop to the three-point line to create a passing angle for a perimeter shot.

That’s how Chrabascz was getting open looks, so when Brogdon slid over to him, his job was to hedge on the screens and rush back to prevent the open look on the pop.

Chrabascz did get one relatively open look, a missed jumper at the 15:19 mark, but Bennett made one subtle adjustment, having Brogdon and whoever was guarding ball switch on picks a couple of times to take away the pick-and-pop, basically forcing Butler to go into a different direction.

Butler coach Chris Holtmann then adjusted by sending Chrabascz into the paint to try to post up Brogdon, and that was where the one point came from, when Brogdon was called for a foul on a Chrabascz post-up at the 13:46 mark.

He missed the second of the two free throws, and you had the feeling that the zone that he had been in, if you believe in the concept of zones, and people being in them, had come and gone.

Bennett went to the post trap to help Brogdon in the post and force Chrabascz to spin the ball out of the double-teams.

So now he wasn’t able to get anything going on the pick-and-pops, and not able to get anything in the post.

Chrabascz missed a jumper at the 10:30 mark, subbed out at 10:28, checked back in at 6:39, missed a jumper at 5:37, and that was it as far as his night was concerned.

Brogdon, Humble Moses to a fault, spread the love for the effort in taking Chrabascz out of the game to his teammates and his coach.

The strategy doesn’t work, though, if you don’t have a guy who can guard literally anybody on the court at any given moment.

“Malcolm is that type of player,” Bennett said. “You look at him all year, he’s guarded point guards, wings, different guys at the four spot. We just said this is the time. He said absolutely, I think this is right.”

– Story by Chris Graham