Sweet 16: UVA, Iowa State will battle to dictate pace

virginia basketballUVA, as we know, embraces the pace, the pace being … deliberate. Iowa State, on the other side of things, pushes the pace.

The Cyclones average 10.4 more possessions per game than the Cavs, according to data from KenPom.com.

We’re talking 71.7 possessions per game for ISU to 61.3 per game for Virginia.

How up tempo is your average Iowa State game? Only 10 of the ‘Clones 34 games had 69 or fewer possessions, with a season high of 88, in a 106-64 win over Chicago State in November.

For comparison, any guess as to how many games Virginia played with 69 or more possessions?

Yeah, zero. The season high was 68 in a 73-68 UVA loss at George Washington in November.

So, there’s your storyline, as if you hadn’t heard this one already: Iowa State wants this game to go fast, Virginia wants it to go slow.

But not so, you know, fast: Iowa State was actually 7-3 in those 50s and 60s games, the losses coming to Northern Iowa (81-79, on Dec. 19), Texas Tech (85-82 in OT, on Feb. 10), and Kansas (85-78, on March 5).

And then you look at Virginia’s games against up-tempo teams. The ‘Hoos defeated Villanova 86-75 on Dec. 19 in a game that somehow had just 60 possessions (‘Nova averages 67.4 possessions per game). West Virginia went down to defeat against the Cavs, 70-54, on Dec. 8, in a game with 65 possessions (WVU averages 70.5 per game).

Oakland averages 74.0 possessions per game, but lost 71-58 at Virginia on Dec. 30 with just 64 possessions.

Duke averages 68.4 possessions per game, but got 59 in a 63-62 win on the controversial Grayson Allen traveling-offensive foul double no-call buzzer beater in February.

North Carolina beat UVA in the ACC Tournament final two weeks ago, 61-57, with 58 possessions, down from UNC’s season average of 72.0.

KenPom.com has Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup playing out to a 63-possessions-per-team game.

It may go a little higher. Virginia had 65 possessions in last weekend’s 77-69 win over Butler in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 36 of them in the second half when coach Tony Bennett went to a four-guard lineup to counter what Butler was doing with its own four-guard lineup.

The first half of that game played very much according to the usual UVA game framework, 28 possessions per team, and Butler actually went into the locker room up two, 25-23.

That fast-paced second half, played at a 72 possessions-per-40 minutes rate, was Virginia’s best offensive half of the season, with the ‘Hoos scoring 54 points on 73.1 percent shooting.

Expect Bennett to play ISU, ranked second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 1.206 points per possession, straight up as long as he can.

The Virginia D is ranked fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, holding opponents to .914 points per possession, so the Pack-Line can frustrate opponents into submission, no doubt.

But if and when push comes to shove, Bennett won’t be afraid to mix it up with Iowa State in terms of pace. Virginia has the nation’s sixth-most efficient offense nationally, scoring 1.193 points per possession, and as the Butler game demonstrated, the Cavs can play fast when necessary.

On the flip side, Iowa State can certainly play slow, as that 7-3 record in games in the 50s and 60s in possessions would indicate.

Might the Cyclones lull themselves into thinking that they can beat Virginia at its game? They wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake.

Expect Virginia to dictate the tempo, in the end.

The game will be won or lost on UVA’s terms.

Story by Chris Graham

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