Tech has won four in a row and have #2 Virginia coming to town Thursday night for a monster matchup. In preparation for the game, we sat down with Luke Marston from Streaking the Lawn to get his insight on what he expects when the Cavaliers and Jackets clash at McCamish Pavilion.
FTRS: How does this year’s UVA team look different with the loss of Perrantes and Shayok from a season ago?
This team couldn’t be more different from last year. Throughout last season the national media was all too happy to remind Virginia fans that the Cavaliers struggled to score. Almost every game featured stretches where the ball would get stuck in Perrantes’ hands, forcing him to chuck a deep three or put his head down and try to make something happen. Even though Virginia lost its four-year starting point guard and two athletic wings (Darius Thompson transferred to Western Kentucky), it opened the door for guys like Devon Hall, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to assert themselves in ways they couldn’t last year. The previous version of the Cavaliers enjoyed taking too many contested pull-up two point jumpers and playing hero ball a bit too much but this year the guards have shown to be far more willing to take the ball to the basket and force the defense to shift, opening up shots that just weren’t there for the 2016-2017 team.
The only similar aspect to last year is, of course, the defense. However, even that has evolved as the Cavaliers have demonstrated some fancy new skills like blocking shots and have forced turnovers at the highest rate in the Tony Bennett era.
FTRS: In what has been a chaotic ACC season so far, UVA seems to be the only constant. How are fans feeling about this team right now?
It’s a huge relief to go into a game knowing what you’re going to get. The fact that Tony and the Boys have been able to execute the same style of play regardless of opponent lends itself to high levels of confidence across the fan base. It’s a strange but welcomed feeling because we as UVA fans are naturally pessimistic due to the historic lack of prolonged success.
FTRS: On a similar note, does UVA have any weaknesses that might concern fans?
Defensive rebounding has been a struggle for the Cavaliers so far this season. Throughout Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville the Cavaliers have prided themselves on making easy shots difficult to come by and, when a shot eventually does go up, grabbing the rebound and limiting opponents to one chance.
However, this year has been a bit of a different story. While Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt have been otherworldly on defense, their aggressiveness in blocking shots has sometimes put the ‘Hoos on their heels when the shot gets to the rim. In the last outing against NC State, Virginia allowed the Wolfpack to grab a third of their misses leading to easy second chance points.
FTRS: How has Kyle Guy evolved his game to go from a role player as a freshman to a leader of this team in his sophomore year?
Kyle’s freshman season started with incredibly high expectations stemming from his McDonald’s All-American status in high school but once he arrived in Charlottesville it became apparent he needed an intense crash course in Pack Line 101. He’s done a great job adding skills to his game that weren’t there last year such as a floater, an active engagement and passion for defense and most importantly knowing when to pick his spots to let it fly from deep. However, the most important evolution isn’t something he added, it’s what he got rid of: the man bun.
FTRS: What exactly makes the pack line defense so hard to penetrate (Tech fans will never forget 2015) and how should Georgia Tech look to attack it?
If I could answer this question I think I would have Josh Pastner’s job! But seriously, it’s shocking that no team has figured out how to put up big numbers against the pack line. The key, as Tony Bennett and the players never forget to mention in post-game pressers, is playing as a unit. The amount of communication and constant movement by every guy on the floor makes it look like there are never any open driving lanes leading opponents to launch contested threes at the end of the shot clock. The only lock down defender Virginia has had in the past few years is our beloved Malcolm Brogdon. Outside of his time in Charlottesville the scheme has relied on every guy knowing their responsibilities and making sure they execute every possession.
I have to ask...what is a Wahoo?
It depends who you ask! There are a bunch of different definitions that vary depending on your age, social proclivities and experiences with Virginia. The official definition from the university is ambiguous at best, stating that Washington and Lee (a small private school in Lexington, Virginia) gave the name to the school in the 1920s during a baseball game but that seems too simple. Students claim that it comes from the Wahoo fish which can drink twice its body weight, which makes sense because… well… we’re not good at football. It’s definitely a mix of the two explanations but you can pick whichever you prefer!
FTRS: Finally, what’s your prediction? Who wins and why?
I’m looking forward to this game. It will only be the Cavalier’s second ACC road game this year and we know anything can happen when teams go on the road in conference play. With that being said, Virginia still has to be heavy favorites in this one. Last year Georgia Tech managed only 49 points and this defense is even better than the one the Yellow Jackets faced a season ago. I envision Josh Okogie giving the defense some trouble with his scoring ability inside and beyond the arc but I’m not sure Ben Lammers or Tadric Jackson will be able to get much going against the pack line. For GT to make it a tight game Jose Alvarado will have to knock down a bunch of three pointers. Like I mentioned earlier there isn’t much variation in the Cavalier final scores so I’m going with the safe bet and say the ‘Hoos win 68-55.
Many thanks to Luke for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out some UVA coverage over at Streaking the Lawn.