Virginia Quietly Hitting Its Stride… Again

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 26th, 2017

Virginia basketball has been the epitome of elite consistency over the past three seasons, as the Cavaliers won at least 29 games and finished among the top six in the final AP Poll from 2014-16. Despite what seems like irreplaceable annual personnel losses (this time: ACC POY Malcolm Brogdon), Tony Bennett’s team is once again tracking in the same direction — a shaky 1-2 ACC start has ceded to the Cavaliers rattling off five victories in a row. Much like years past, Virginia’s components of success largely look the same — the pack line defense remains stifling, and the offense is led by a seasoned and steady senior.

Against a ranked Miami team in January, Virginia guard London Perrantes pumped up the Charlottesville crowd. (Ryan M. Kelly/AP)

Let’s start with the pack line defense. During the five-game winning streak, the Cavaliers have given up a measly 58.4 points per game, a number that, while above their season average, ranks first among ACC teams in conference play by nearly six points per game (Louisville has given up 64.3 points per game). They’ve managed that feat by limiting the opposition’s three-point attack. After Florida State and Pittsburgh torched the Cavaliers by shooting a combined 58.3 percent from beyond the arc in back-to-back losses, subsequent opponents have converted a much chillier 28.7 percent in the five wins. The best output of those five games was Georgia Tech’s 4-of-9 performance, but since it has been shown time and again that the best way to defend the three is by limiting their attempts, that too has to be considered a win for the Wahoos. Bennett’s pack line is designed to stifle teams inside, but Virginia’s recent run has been predicated on chasing shooters off the line and getting in their space. While an elite defense is certainly good, history shows that great defensive teams that have trouble scoring do not perform well in the NCAA Tournament. Where the Cavaliers stand apart from many of the other defensive stalwarts in college basketball is on the offensive end, where Virginia’s senior leader orchestrates the show.

London Perrantes is the next in a long line of Virginia veterans to anchor Bennett’s roster. Joe Harris (2014), Justin Anderson (2015) and Brogdon (2016) each had their year to shine, and Perrantes in his next-man-up role has not disappointed. He is shooting a ridiculous 15-of-27 (55.6%) from three-point range during the five-game winning streak, leading the team in scoring in three of those games. But it has also been the timeliness off his scoring that has made those contributions so important. In a close game at Littlejohn Coliseum against Clemson, he knocked down 4-of-5 threes in the second half and assisted on two, with three of his makes coming in the final nine minutes and the score within four points. In Virginia’s game at #14 Notre Dame, he calmly knocked in a three with 3:59 remaining to make it an 11-point game. The Irish never got any closer. When the pressure is at its highest and the team needs someone to get a bucket, Perrantes is consistently stepping up. Groomed by those that came before him, his winning leadership has shown during the Cavaliers’ recent surge.

The open question in Charlottesville still centers around the postseason. Despite so much regular season success over the last few years, Virginia’s postseason performances have been less outstanding. A single ACC Tournament title (2014) has been coupled with three NCAA Tournament flameouts to a team seeded at least three spots lower than them. But like Villanova, which went through a similar postseason dip the last several years prior to its run to the National Championship, the Cavaliers can only continue to put themselves into great position and hope for the best. With a typically dominant defense and a go-to player like Perrantes in the clutch, this could finally be the year in which Virginia breaks through.

Charlie Maikis (15 Posts)

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