Narrative: How Virginia vs. Clemson most likely plays out
Clemson can shoot the three – the Tigers’ 41.5 percent mark from long-range is fifth-best nationally.
Virginia can be susceptible to the three – in three of the Cavaliers’ four losses, their opponents have made at least 10 from behind the arc.
But this story isn’t going to be quite that simple.
Keys for Virginia
It starts with the pick-and-roll
Clemson gets close to a fifth of its offense from P&Rs, with guards Nick Honor and Al-Amir Dawes as the ball-handlers and 6’10” forward-center P.J. Hall as the screener.
Virginia likes to defend the P&R with its big – this year, either Kadin Shedrick or Francisco Caffaro – hard-hedging, basically double-teaming the ball-handler, with a guard on the back end taking away the dive.
Important here is Shedrick and Caffaro avoiding touch fouls on the hedge, which, unfortunately, they haven’t been able to do consistently.
Shedrick averages 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes; Caffaro, 7.4.
There’s nowhere to hide foul-prone bigs in the Bennett system. The Pack-Line has them hedging on P&Rs, and they’re constantly screening in mover/blocker.
Now you appreciate Jack Salt more.
Even if UVA’s bigs avoid dumb fouls, Virginia needs to finish possessions defensively. Navy and Houston each made 11 threes, Iowa 10, and Pitt was 8-of-16 in its one-point loss in JPJ earlier this month.
Close-outs on spot-ups are paramount tonight for the ‘Hoos.
Who scores for Virginia?
Clemson isn’t what it has been in past years defensively, but this Virginia bunch is as offensively-challenged as you can imagine.
The mover/blocker offense is predicated on using screens to get guards open for curls and flares, but when the guards can’t shoot – Armaan Franklin is shooting 21.1 percent from three; Reece Beekman, 15.8 percent – the whole thing gums up.
Clemson doesn’t go zone that often – according to data analytics site Synergy Sports, the Tigers have used zone on 2.3 percent of their defensive possessions this year – but honestly, if Brad Brownell doesn’t at least try some zone, it’s coaching malpractice.
The only threats in Virginia’s rotation are point guard Kihei Clark, a slasher and spot-up shooter, and undersized power forward Jayden Gardner.
Go zone, and Clark can’t penetrate, Gardner can’t do anything in the post.
Shedrick gets an early foul on a hard hedge. It’s probably not a good call, but it is what it is, and UVA coach Tony Bennett, following his script, finds a seat for Shedrick on the bench next to him early.
Then Caffaro gets a cheapie, stays in the game, eventually picks up a second.
Roughly midway through the first half, Brownell tries some zone, just to see if it will work, which, of course it will.
He’s also trying to coax Bennett into bringing one or two from among Taine Murray, Igor Milicic Jr. or Carson McCorkle into the game as zone-busters.
Bennett won’t bite in the first half; his aim is to just keep the game in striking distance in the first 20, to leave himself some options in the second.
Clemson goes into the break with a modest lead, six to eight points.
Second half is more of the same.
Bennett has to spend way too much of his mental energy trying to keep a big at five with their back-and-forth foul trouble.
He finally relents between the first and second media timeouts to insert one of the 3M guys to try to create some spacing from the perimeter.
It doesn’t work.
Clemson hits enough from three – seven, eight, nine – to maintain separation.
Gardner puts up decent numbers – low double-digits in points, five to seven boards – but is otherwise a non-factor.
Virginia has an uncomfortable number of turnovers, but it’s because Clark and Beekman are trying to find things that aren’t there, because what is there isn’t working.
Your final is somewhere in the range of Clemson mid- to upper-50s, Virginia upper-40s to low-50s.
Story by Chris Graham