“Blossomgame, LeDay, Andrew (Chrabascz), Ingram – those four men that can play that way, can shoot the three – I guess Jenkins from Villanova – those guys that are complete, can shoot it from three, can put it on the floor, at times have challenged us, they really have. And this is probably the best we’ve faced in certain ways,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of Niang, a 6’8”, 230-pounder who puts up unquestionably impressive numbers.
Niang averages 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, shooting 54.6 percent from the field, 39.0 percent from three-point range and 81.3 percent from the line.
The one knock on Niang would be that he doesn’t get to the line all that much – 3.3 times a game.
One other quibble would be turnovers – 2.6 a game – but when you have to nitpick, it’s because the guy has game.
Clemson stretch four Jaron Blossomgame ate UVA’s lunch in two Virginia regular-season wins, averaging 27 points against the ‘Hoos. Zach LeDay keyed a Virginia Tech upset in January with 22 points and four three-pointers.
Kris Jenkins at Villanova scored 23 points in Virginia’s 86-75 win over the Wildcats in December, going 5-of-11 from the field and 8-of-9 at the foul line. Ingram, the ACC freshman of the year at Duke, had a torrid 9-of-10 stretch to push Duke to an upset win in February.
And who can forget Chrabascz, the Butler forward who had his own 9-for-10 stretch Saturday night to put fear in the hearts of Wahoo Nation before Bennett put ACC defensive player of the year Malcolm Brogdon on him to turn the game around.
Like those other mobile bigs, Niang “sometimes bring it up, can shoot the three, posts up, beats you off the dribble. Really a unique player,” Bennett said.
The approach to defending a player of Niang’s caliber, Bennett said, is “you try to make him earn.”
“They have other guys who are very talented, who shoot 40 percent or above from the three-point line, have good spacing. They score in transition, they score posting up, they score inside-out,” Bennett said, detailing the issue that faces the Cavs (28-7) in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup.
Which is, you can’t just say you’re going to stick Brogdon on Niang and waltz to victory.
Iowa State (23-11) has six players averaging double figures in scoring, and a seventh, Deonte Burton, who averages 9.6 points on 52.5 percent shooting from the floor and 45.9 percent shooting from three-point range.
As a team, the Cyclones shoot 50.3 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from three, and are ranked third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 1.207 points per possession, according to KenPom.com.
Virginia ranks fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up .919 points per possession, but in seven games against the stretch fours listed above, opponents scored 1.047 points per possession.
UVA did go 5-2 in those seven games, the two losses coming by a combined three points. One adjustment Bennett made against Duke’s Ingram, Clemson’s Blossomgame and Butler’s Chrabascz was to switch Brogdon to the four defensively and go four-guard with Anthony Gill playing center, and Marial Shayok playing two alongside London Perrantes and Devon Hall in the backcourt.
The move paid off on the offensive end against Butler, with that lineup on the floor for basically the last 16 minutes, with Mike Tobey spelling Gill at center for a short stretch, and putting in Virginia’s best offensive half of the season, scoring 54 points on 73.1 percent shooting.
Which might serve to remind you that while ISU is ranked third nationally in offensive efficiency, UVA is sixth, scoring 1.192 points per possession, according to KenPom.com.
Iowa State is ranked 92nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 1.002 points per possession.
So, yeah, you can guess that ISU beat writers are asking Cyclones’ coach Steve Prohm hard questions about how he guards Brogdon and Gill, how they compare to what they’ve seen in the Big 12, and the rest.
Bennett at least has some frames of reference to go by with respect to game-planning Niang.
“Because we’ve been in those experiences, obviously you have some experiences to draw on,” Bennett said. “Sometimes, OK, we’ve had to go four guards, at times it’s been Anthony on them, or Isaiah or Malcolm, different players. I know it is a different challenge for us at that position, and this will probably be our biggest challenge with a player that has the whole package like him.”
– Story by Chris Graham