The Wake Forest Demon Deacons travel to Charlottesville this weekend to take on the Virginia Cavaliers on Sunday night. In anticipation of Sunday’s contest, we caught up with Caroline Darney of Streaking The Lawn, SB Nation’s Virginia blog, to discuss the matchup.
BSD: Virginia beat Louisville in impressive fashion at Louisville to open ACC play, but has since been upset by both FSU and Pitt. What has been the difference?
STL: There are two glaring differences from the Louisville and FSU/Pitt games as I see it. 1) FSU and Pitt shot lights out and 2) FT disparity. Regarding the first point, it has been tough to watch the Pack Line struggle against Dwayne Bacon and then the Panthers. Truthfully, in both cases I think it's more of a situation in which the opposing offenses were just hitting shots that make you go, "well, if they're gonna hit that...", but Tony Bennett led teams usually don't let people put up 26 points in a half (Bacon) or shoot 13-for-21 from three (Pitt). A lot of the shots over the last two games were relatively well contested and the wide open looks were more the outlier than the standard.
As to the FT disparity, that lends more to style of play than any deep running conspiracy in the league. In the last two games combined, Virginia's opponents have attempted 52 free throws to Virginia's 10. No, not a typo. 52-10. Some of those calls were pretty bogus, and some did have a direct impact on the game. However, Virginia has been settling for jumpers, which will obviously (and apparently DRASTICALLY) reduce free throw attempts. They have to figure out a way to even that number out.
Oh and Pitt had a bajillion second chance points. That hurt.
BSD: We all know that Virginia has run the "Pack Line" defense under Tony Bennett. For those unfamiliar, could you please briefly describe the philosophy behind this defense?
STL: Ooooh yeah. I love the Pack Line. The defense is based on three basic ideas: deny the fast break, deny dribble penetration, and deny offensive rebounds. The idea is to limit (eliminate) transition and easy baskets and to force you to shoot over the defense to beat them (see: Pitt). Bennett utilizes a lot of post trapping, and it's a physical on-ball presence. Players stay behind an imaginary line just inside the three-point arc, aka the "Pack Line". Ideally, opposing teams find it difficult to find a good shot and are forced into a late shot clock prayer. One of my co-writers put this together that is a great description, complete with videos.
BSD: Virginia added a very good freshman in former McDonald's All American, Kyle Guy, but lost a pair of excellent seniors in Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill. What were expectations headed into the season and have they changed since the preseason?
STL: Expectations preseason were significantly higher than they are now, and that has everything to do with the dismissal of Austin Nichols. Nichols, a transfer from Memphis, played exactly one game for the Hoos after red-shirting last season before promptly being dismissed from the team for inability to follow team rules (he had been suspended for the season opener and was apparently a repeat offender). A lot of the talking heads included Nichols on their All-ACC and All-America preseason teams, and he was supposed to help mitigate the loss of Anthony Gill inside as a more talented defensive player and comparable offensive player. Now, the Hoos have a hole down low. Jack Salt is Virginia's one true "five", with Isaiah Wilkins, Jarred Reuter, and redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite rounding out the bigs.
That said, I think this team is still capable of a legit tourney run. Kyle Guy has been phenomenal (save a stinker against Pitt, but hey...it happens), and Diakite is a breath of fresh air on both ends of the court. The Virginia defense is a great equalizer, so there's a high ceiling for this team, just not as high as it was before. It's hard to lose a guy like Malcolm Brogdon...his perimeter defense saved Virginia many times, and that kind of leadership is hard to replace.
BSD: What do you believe is a Virginia weakness that Wake Forest can take advantage of in this matchup?
STL: Virginia has to limit Wake on the boards. As I mentioned, the second chance points were BRUTAL against Pitt. The biggest weakness is going to be down low for the Hoos this year. Additionally, if Wake can hit outside shots and get to the line...that seems to be the recipe.
BSD: Finally, let's get a prediction. Hoo (pardon the horrific pun) wins this one?
STL: I think this is going to be a bounce back win for Virginia. According to the Daily Progress' Andrew Ramspacher, Virginia has rebounded defensively in games following high point totals given up. After giving up 83 to UNC (2013), 87 to Tennessee (2013), and 80 to Miami (2015), the Hoos have given up 54, 50, and 51 points, respectively, to the next opponent. These guys take pride in their defense, so I wouldn't be surprised if they come out invigorated after giving up so many to Pitt.
I think it's Virginia 66, Wake 52...but the ACC is absolutely bonkers, so who knows.