Tim Mulholland of Streaking the Lawn was nice enough to answer a few questions. Topics range from the vaunted Pack Line Defense, to Joe Harris, to a prediction on the game. Hope y'all enjoy!
1. UVA is coming off of a big win vs. UNC on Sunday night mainly due to their defense. Give the Blogger So Dear readers a little bit of knowledge about the Packline Defense and why it is so successful. What are some do's and don'ts against it for success (or failure)
We are now in year four of the Tony Bennett/Pack Line Defense and I'm still not sure whether I think it is a simple defense or a complicated defense. I think that comes from the fact that a basic explanation of it can be quite simple, but the actual execution takes a lot of time and effort to get right. You'll have to excuse me if this explanation turns into a bit of an essay. I'm a big fan of defense, though not terribly proficient at explaining it.
The Pack Line is, if you were to take a snapshot at any given moment, a sagging man-to-man defense. The defender covering the player with the ball will extend out beyond the three point arc to put pressure on the ball. The other four defenders will "sag" down inside the "pack line" - an imaginary line that's somewhere around two feet inside the arc. This differs from a lot of man-to-man defenses because the off-ball defenders won't often be denying the pass to their opponent.
If the ball is passed to another offensive player on the perimeter, that player's defender would extend out to pressure (hands up!) and the previous on-ball defender would sag back. If, however, the offensive player tries to drive into the paint, the off-ball defenders will collapse and prevent the dribble penetration before moving back into position near their opponent.
When it works well, the offense is only able to pass the ball around the perimeter or take long, contested shots. It also means that the shot clock will often start running out on the offensive team while they try to find a way to work the ball inside. This makes for fewer possessions in the game, keeping the contest closer than it might otherwise be if the opponent is overly athletic and likes to run.
It would seem like this type of defense would be susceptible to good three-point shooting teams. In practice, this hasn't been that big of a deal for Virginia very often. The pressure and the quick closeouts make those three point shots contested and, quite frankly, most teams just don't shoot the three well enough to overcome not being able to get the ball into the paint at all. That said, if a team was hot, they could certainly build themselves a cushion with the three ball. The inside-out game can help with this if a team can find a weakness in the collapsing D that gives the perimeter shooters some time.
Beyond that, if you can force Virginia to miss shots on the offensive side and run the ball back up the floor, you can get into the paint before the defense has a chance to set up. Much like any half-court defense, getting ahead of it is effective. Also, a strong inside game could frustrate this particular incarnation of the pack line, because our bigs aren't exactly 7' centers (Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins are both 6'8" though freshman Mike Tobey is 6'11") and while they're athletic, they could get beat by a true big.
2. The Wahoos are ranked 27th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, yet garner very little respect because of some bad losses to Old Dominion, George Mason and Delaware. What does the fan base think of the team so far and what do most fans expect out of the team this year?
The lack of respect is pretty well justified. Losing to ODU was a bad, bad, bad loss. The other two are a little more forgivable at the beginning of the season. It's really hard to tell what the Virginia fanbase thinks of this basketball team. Half of them are still complaining about Mike London's timeout usage in our last football game in Blacksburg. Since we don't have a clear "star" on the team, I don't think that expectations are all that high. Before the UNC game, I would have said that as long as we returned to the post-season (even the INT), most fans would have been content. But if we win a few more exciting ones like the one over the Tar Heels... expectations might start changing quickly.
3. The junior tandem of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are really getting it done so far for Coach Bennett, what has been the key(s) to their successful development over their time at UVA?
Joe Harris has been good from the beginning. Not perfect, mind you. But the tools were all there. He just needed a little confidence and a little consistency. The previous two seasons he had star players ahead of him - Mustafa Farrakhan, Mike Scott and Will Sherrill in 2010-11 and Mike Scott in '11-12. Now it's his turn. He's clearly the best and most consistent player on the team and he has embraced that role. The previous two years were a good opportunity to fine tune his game.
Akil Mitchell, on the other hand, has progressed like crazy. It seems like it came almost overnight between last season and this season. Spending all of last year playing against Mike Scott had to help with that. Continuing that practice this year against Darion Atkins (who has also progressed immensely) and former Cavalier Travis Watson (who is back in town for a while between teams and has been working out with the team) likely continued that upward trend. We knew he was athletic and had the tools to be a solid 4. We just didn't see it in full effect until this year.
4. As a Cavaliers fan what is your take on Wake Forest this year and how do most fans view the Demon Deacons these days? Are you concerned at all about the game tomorrow or do most feel like it will be a comfortable win for the Hoo's?
I wouldn't be a Virginia fan if I wasn't concerned about the game on Wednesday. That said, I don't really think Wake Forest is on most Cavalier fans' radars. They're more focused on Duke's success and Virginia Tech's failures. But here's what I know: Wake's an insanely young team with more than half its roster being filled with freshmen. Even so, they've only really had one "bad" loss. UConn, Iona, Richmond and Seton Hall are all in KenPom's top 100. Nebraska is the only loss outside the top 100 and I can't really fault them too much for a loss to a Big Ten team. Half those losses were single-digits too. The further into the season, the better those freshmen are going to get. So yeah, I'm concerned about the game, especially on the road.
5. Gimme dat score prediction and a "Bold Prediction" from either Wake or UVA player/stats-wise.
I'm going to go with Virginia 67, Wake 55. And I think that we will hold C.J. Harris to one of his lowest outputs of the season, but McKie will have a big game, partially making up for it.
Thanks again to Tim and the entire staff over at Streaking the Lawn for their great work on everything Virginia Cavaliers related.