Computers and Eyes Tell Divergent Stories About Virginia

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

What I’m about to write won’t make me very popular with the majority of new wave, analytically-obsessed fans, who comprise a majority of today’s young college basketball devotees. But forget what KenPom’s formula spits out. Use your eyes. Virginia stinks. Inexplicably, prior to its ACC quarterfinal loss last night — a game in which the Cavaliers were thoroughly outplayed by Notre Dame from tip to buzzer — Virginia was still rated seventh by KenPom’s analytical formula. After its 10th loss of the season, Tony Bennett‘s team probably won’t slide all that much. But if you watch Virginia play and can honestly tell me it is an elite team — and in this model that means the Cavs would be favored to beat all but Gonzaga, Villanova and North Carolina on a neutral floor — then fly me to Vegas with all the money you can get your hands on to take, let’s say, UCLA.

Tony Bennett and Virginia are still a very strong team, but not quite where they have been. (USA TODAY Sports)

I use UCLA as an example because, first, the metrics don’t care much for the Bruins (17th nationally, per KenPom), and second, they have pros. And while their defense leaves much to be desired at times, the Bruins have a roster full of studs who are not very far away from earning a handsome living playing basketball. And that matters at this time of year. A tremendous pack line defense and slow tempo can only get you so far. Who for Virginia can blow by his defender and get to the rim himself or create an easy opportunity for a teammate? The answer is as startling as it is obvious. Bennett has done a remarkable job in revitalizing a moribund program in Charlottesville by winning a pair of ACC regular season titles and making a trip to the Elite Eight, so it would be disingenuous for me to disparage the Cavaliers’ style of play without acknowledging that his teams have  all utilized an identical strategy. Still, successful systemic pedigree can only get you so far. This iteration doesn’t have a Justin Anderson or a Malcolm Brogdon on the roster, a pair of players who, by the way, are now NBA professionals.

Austin Nichols was supposed to be that player, but his dismissal from the program after only one game left a void Bennett has been unable to fill. Kyle Guy has had moments where he looked like he could remove some of the pressure on senior point guard London Perrantes, but the freshman has had an uneven rookie campaign. The senior Perrantes was the perfect game manager for Bennett’s ACC championship teams, but this year he has been asked to do things that his skill set lacks. Stylistically, Virginia will always know how to frustrate good teams by slowing the game down and playing suffocating defense as exemplified in its upset win over league champion North Carolina just two weeks ago. But, given the drop in offensive talent on this year’s roster, the Cavaliers have a far better chance of being picked off before the ink on your bracket is dry than advancing to Phoenix.

Matthew Auerbach (28 Posts)


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