The Jackets take on the defending national champs tonight, looking to bounce back from a close loss against Notre Dame. Before the game, we sat down with Caroline Darney from Streaking The Lawn to get her insight on what he expects when the Cavaliers and Jackets battle in Atlanta.
FTRS: Currently riding a three game losing streak, Virginia recently dropped out of the AP rankings for the first time since 2007. What are the biggest concerns with this team?
Shooting and turnovers. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Virginia actually had a great game plan against Florida State, but were undone by 18 turnovers. With a much slimmer margin of error, each mistake is magnified for this year’s squad. To Virginia’s credit, they’ve been in every game late (except Purdue), but struggled once tying the game or retaking the lead. No one has emerged as a wholly trusted “go-to” guy in crunch time, which is understandable given what pieces were lost.
FTRS: After winning the NCAA championship last season, the Cavaliers lost Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter, the top three players from that team. What are the biggest gaps left behind from their departure?
The biggest thing is that the departure of the Big Three (Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter) that helped the Hoos win the title — combined with Jack Salt graduating — left a void of experience and leadership. Kihei Clark, a second year, inherited the team alongside Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, and Virginia has gotten...not a lot of contributions from wings Kody Stattmann, Casey Morsell, and Tomas Woldetensae. Stattmann is just a second year, Morsell is a first year, and Woldetensae is a junior college transfer. There’s no natural back up point guard, leaving the responsibility solely to Clark. While he has made a lot of mistakes on his own (not knocking him...there’s a steep learning curve), he’s also no longer surrounded by about-to-go-to-the-NBA players.
FTRS: Despite the struggles this season, Virginia is still elite defensively, ranking second in the nation in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency. However, the offensive efficiency ranks 240th. What are the biggest struggles on that end of the court?
This is a bit of a continuation from the question above. No one in the country was as good as Guy moving off-ball last season. He never stopped moving, made quick cuts, and could squeeze off a shot so quickly. That is noticeably absent this season as Stattmann, Morsell, and Woldetensae try and figure out their roles. On top of that, the entire team seems to have the yips when it comes to shooting beyond the arc. According to KenPom, Virginia is 347th in the country (out of 353) at shooting threes with a 26.5% 3P%. Honestly, one out of every four threes going in even sounds high...
What’s low-key amazing, though, is Clark is still averaging 5.9 assists per game. Impressive on a team that has an eFG% of 45.2%.
Beyond the shooting issues, Virginia is taking scoring opportunities away from themselves by turning it over 21% of the time. Not sure if you’ve heard, but Virginia plays low possession games, so if you’re wasting as many as they are...things get way harder.
FTRS: Which player is most important to this Virginia team? Is there a player that could be considered an x-factor?
I’m going to go with Kihei Clark, primarily because of the aforementioned turnovers. I in no way blame Clark for any losses as Virginia did that as a team, but he’s looked to as a leader and the Hoos have to maximize possessions to give themselves a better chance to win. I’m going to do what I want and pick one other guy...Morsell. He’s a supremely talented player that just cannot hit the broad side of a barn from outside so far, but he’s a great defender (which will always get you playing time on a Bennett team). If Morsell can see a couple go in, he can make a huge impact.
FTRS: What’s your prediction for this one? Who wins and why?
Sigh. I really don’t know. Anyone that thinks Georgia Tech is a bad team hasn’t been paying attention. I’ve watched them several times, and I think this is going to be close throughout. For my sanity on the message boards/comment section, I’m going to say Virginia escapes with a win to end the skid, but literally any result would not surprise me.
Many thanks to Caroline for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out some Virginia coverage over at Streaking The Lawn. You can find my answers to their questions here.