If you need a refresher, check this out...
Or if you're short on time, this will suffice.
Basically, Virginia went into Purcell Pavilion and put on a clinic. I hate using a cliche like that, but honestly that's what it was. If you want to see how a team ought to play on both ends of the floor, just watch that game. It was incredible.
It started with the defense, as UVA employed the post trap early and often against Notre Dame's most bearded post player, Garrick Sherman (not to be confused with Jean Valjean).
Sherman really struggled against the double team and turned the ball over, leading to some easy transition buckets for Virginia, including Malcolm Brogdon's "Hollywood" slam.
The Cavs also played beautiful basketball on the offensive end. One of the main reasons the game was so much fun to watch, especially on TV was to hear Bob Knight and Digger Phelps gush over London Perrantes as if he was the second coming of Bob Cousy (Knight would later refer to him as the best point guard in the country). London gave them plenty to talk about, too, as this game effectively served as his coming out party.
Anyways, for a number of reasons, the game was incredibly and somewhat surprisingly enjoyable to watch. It was the first test of a BIG week for Virginia, as UVA would head to then #18 Pittsburgh for a Super Bowl Sunday showdown with the Panthers. It was a game that in the past, Virginia probably would have lost, killing the momentum they had built up by winning 6 of their last 7 games since the Tennessee debacle. But there was no letdown, and that is why I'm spending so much time discussing this game. I truly believe that what we were able to do that night in South Bend is a big reason where the program is where it is right now. Obviously, a lot of things happened in between that beautiful win and starting 14-0 and earning the #3 ranking, but that performance seemed foreshadow the success. It was, in a sense, the start of the incredible journey that continued into last season and still continues even today.
I say all of this because I think there's a decent chance that journey hits a bump in the road tonight. This year's Notre Dame team is very, very good. Sort of like Virginia, they do what they do, and they do it well, and what they do is play flawless offense. Any Mike Brey team is going to be a good passing and shooting team, but this one is possibly his best. They have guys that really know each other and understand how to play well together.
Obviously, it all starts with Jerian Grant. We all saw how valuable he was to that team last year when they nosedived to the bottom of the conference with his absence. Some fans will ask, "how are we going stop Jerian from scoring?" and while that is clearly an important question, it's not the one that concerns me the most. That would be, "how are we going to stop Jerian from distributing?" While Grant is a fantastic scorer, it's almost as if he scores just so he can make it easier to set up opportunities for his teammates. He's not a terrible three point shooter, but he knows that he's got guys like Pat Connaughton, Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem, and Demetrious Jackson to kick it to, and since 3>2, he realizes that the best way for him to help his team is by attacking, breaking down the defense, and setting up clean looks for his hot-shooting teammates.
That's really what this matchup will be about: how deep will Jerian Grant be able to penetrate into the lane. If he gets into the paint often, UVA will be in serious trouble, as he'll not only be able to convert close to the basket, but he'll almost surely be setting up 1-2 WIDE open looks for his teammates. That's exactly what he did against the Tar Heels on Monday. He only made one shot from the field, but he won that game with his 8 assists. Good shooting teams are tough to stop as it is, but when you have an athlete like Grant that can break a defense down, that's when these types of teams become terrifying.
Thankfully, Virginia will be prepared for this. They know that the way for Notre Dame to win depends upon their ability to get the ball into the lane. As everyone already knows, Virginia's pack line is prevent this from happening. Yes, pack line teams will always be a bit more vulnerable from three, but that really only becomes an issue when teams can successfully break down the defense, forcing perimeter defenders to sag even further off their men.
So that's the main question of this game. If UVA and the pack line can stop Grant from getting into the lane, it should be able to limit Notre Dame's offensive opportunities. If this happens, Virginia will certainly win the game. That being said, another thing to keep an eye on is what's happening in the post. The Cavs have an enormous advantage in the post, in size, talent, depth, experience...you name it. Notre Dame's lone reliable post player is Zach Auguste. That's pretty much it. They have guys like Austin Torres and former UVA recruit Martin Geben who may see some time, but neither of those guys are anywhere near the level of Virginia's three headed monster of Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Darion Atkins. Heck, personally I don't even think Auguste is any better than any of those three. So offensively, it will be important for Virginia to work inside out, getting those post players as many touches as possible. Look for Notre Dame to test out some post traps to try and limit the mismatch, but I'm not sure how effective that will be. If UVA can get some buckets down low early or even better, get Auguste into foul trouble, then they could get a firm grasp on this game.
And really, that's what it's all about. I think the team that wins this game is going to be the team that forces the opponent to adjust to them, and not the other way around. I know, "duhhh" but this game especially will depend upon which side feels like they are in control. For Virginia, this would happen by getting the ball inside and executing in the post on offense, and preventing penetration on defense. For Notre Dame, it would involve moving the ball across the court and forcing Virginia to play small to keep up. One of the main reasons why this program is rolling right now is because the team has been so darn good at establishing this type of control that I'm referring to. The past few games, however, we have seen Virginia show a remarkable lack of control. If UVA figures it out, I think this game could be a lot like the game in South Bend last year. If not, however, we might see out first loss since March. I'm not going to give any sort of prediction other than the only outcomes that would surprise me are a blowout loss and a close win. I think this is going to be one of those games where Virginia shows up and rolls (like they did against VCU) or continues to struggle a bit and comes up just short on the road.
My hunch is that we show up. I can't see this team playing poorly 4 games in a row. It still would not surprise me at all if Notre Dame won because they are a legitimately good team that could hurt us in a few ways, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this team isn't quite ready to lose. Not yet...