CRAWFORD | The scout: Virginia at Louisville, TV, line, refs and 3 things to watch
The University of Louisville faces its biggest home test to date when Virginia visits the KFC Yum! Center at 1 p.m. Saturday in a game televised by CBS. Eric Crawford takes a detailed look at the matchup.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It has been a brave, new world this season for the basketball teams at Virginia and Louisville. Two of the best defensive teams in the nation a year ago, they, like everyone else, are still adjusting to the tighter whistles blowing through college basketball.
For Virginia, the familiar pack line defense has wavered a bit, thanks a bit to the emphasis on cleaning up contact. Badly in need of defensive answer at Wake Forest on Tuesday night, Cavaliers’ coach Tony Bennett turned to a zone defense.
“It shows you how desperate we were, and how poor our defense was,” Bennett said after the game, noting that the change did help.
Virginia won that game at Wake Forest 72-71 on a banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer — with the help of seven missed Wake Forest free throws late. They had to come from 10 points down with 1:20 to play for their first road win in ACC play, after losses at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State.
The Cavaliers come into the KFC Yum! Center for Saturday’s 1 p.m. CBS game against Louisville ranked No. 46 in defensive efficiency — well below where they’ve been the past several years.
But they’re still very good. They’re 3-0 against ranked opponents, including double-digit wins over Villanova and West Virginia, and an eight-point win over Miami.
“They play flawless basketball,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told me earlier in the season.
They don’t turn it over. They don’t beat themselves. They shoot a high percentage, and they don’t give up uncontested shots — though they’ve struggled defensively in ACC play.
The game begins the decisive stretch of the season for Louisville. Between now and March 5, eight of their 11 games will be against teams that either are ranked right now or have been ranked at some point in the season.
“Sounds nauseating,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, when talking about the upcoming month. “. . . I think we’ve handled everything much better than I ever anticipated going into this season with an inexperienced team, so I’ve got no complaints. . . . We’re just trying to get this team where they need to be at the end of the year. They’re very inexperienced. Very young basketball-wise, in terms of what we try to do defensively. They’re very eager to learn, very willing to play the price. We’re super excited to be 17-3 at this point.”
Some details on the game, plus three things to watch:
Time: 1 p.m., KFC Yum! Center.
TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Bill Raftery)
Series: Virginia leads 6-4.
Officials: Les Jones, Brian O’Connell, Tim Clougherty.
Line: Louisville by 6, under is 128.
1. THE BRIGHT LIGHTS, AND THE YOUNG PLAYERS. The critical portion of U of L’s basketball season has arrived, particularly the home games, which are crucial to win if a team hopes to keep pace with the rest of the league. The Cardinals’ early 6-1 ACC record is nice, but Pitino said Friday, “I wouldn’t put any stock in it.”
The good thing for the Cards is that there are young players who may well be ready to take it up another notch with the rise in competition — Donovan Mitchell would seem to lead that group. But from game to game, Pitino isn’t quite sure where the stars will come from, of if they’ll come.
“I don’t know who is going to play well on this team,” Pitino said. “We are a work in progress. Every day we’re learning something new about our players, what they can do and what they can’t do.”
Offensively, the Cardinals would figure to be as well suited to deal with Virginia’s defense as anyone. Their offense has been diverse. Of their shots, 72 percent have come at the rim or in the mid-range game. But they’re capable of hurting you from three — especially on the left side of the court, where they shoot 41 percent from the left wing and 44 from the left corner.
The matchup of Chinanu Onuaku on Anthony Gill, and vice versa, is a key to the game.
Virginia doesn’t give up easy looks. Louisville will have to make some jump shots in this game, and will have to avoid taking quick, bad shots. They’re not likely to get points off turnovers, nor off second-chance scores. Virginia is among the best at shutting off both.
They'll have to execute offensively, and defend a full 30 seconds on defense.
2. LEE vs. BROGDON, A MARQUEE MATCHUP. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s preseason All-American, is ranked No. 8 in Ken Pomeroy’s national player of the year ratings. Louisville’s Damion Lee is No. 9. Brogdon is coming off three straight 20-plus point games. Lee is coming off a 29-point game in which he only took eight shots, and made 6 of 7 threes.
They both do it all — even at the free throw line. Lee is shooting 87 percent on the season. Brogdon 84.7.
But both players are more than their offensive statistics. Lee has made himself into a better defensive player, and now leads the team with 33 steals on the season.
The way these teams play, it won’t be a straight one-on-one matchup all afternoon. But when it is, it should be fun.
3. SCOUTING THE CAVALIERS: Virginia leads the nation in limiting opponent rebounds — only 28 per game, and less than eight offensive rebounds per game. While they’ve had some recent defensive struggles, don’t get the idea that they’re bad defensively — they are 11th nationally in scoring defense. And their tempo plays into that. Their games average 62.5 possessions per team. Only two of the 351 teams in NCAA Division I play at a slower pace.
Yet Virginia shoots it well. They’re at 49 percent as a team, and are 19th nationally in three-point percentage.
Brogdon, Gill and point guard London Perrantes have to be the focal point of any defense. Brogdon’s usage percentage — or roughly the number of possessions he has a hand in finishing when he’s in the game — is 31 percent, nearly a third of their offense.
Their points come largely at the rim, but against Virginia, you have to watch the corners. You give up a corner three to them, you’re in trouble. Only seven percent of their shots come from corner threes, but they shoot 56 percent from the left corner and 51 percent from the right (an area on the court Louisville has struggled to defend this season, giving up 49 percent there). Virginia gets most of its attempts —- 42 percent — at the rim. (Louisville, by comparison, takes 40 percent at the rim. Shot information here is from ShotAnalytics.com.)
After watching Bennett play seven possessions of zone in the last game, Pitino probably has had to prepare for it.
“They usually blitz the pick and roll very aggressively, like a trap, and they were probably getting the foul calls because you can’t do that anymore,” Pitino said. “So he probably did the smart thing and just changed up a little bit. He’s one of the bright coaches in our game. . . . They play 5-versus-3 almost every possession. They just choke down the paint, don’t give anything inside. If you hit a jump shot, it’s got to be with someone running and challenging at you. They do a great job of blocking out. They do a great job of getting five guys into the lane.”
WHITE OUT: The game in Louisville is being billed as a white out, with fans encouraged to wear all white. Pitino was asked Friday if he’s wearing a white suit. He’s done it for seven White Out games at Louisville, and when informed that he’d beaten ranked opponents four times wearing one, said, “Then I’ll definitely get a white suit. My other one is a little outdated with the pleats. I’ll definitely get one.”