Date/Time: Tuesday, January 28; 9:00
Record against the Irish: 5-1
Last meeting: UVA 81, ND 76; 4/1/92, New York, NY
Last game: UVA 65, VT 45 (1/25); WF 65, ND 58 (1/25)
UVA: 63.0 (#335)
ND: 66.4 (#225)
UVA: 109.9 (#70)
ND: 113.0 (#38)
UVA: 88.7 (#4)
ND: 103.5 (#151)
UVA: .9216 (#15)
ND: .7326 (#72)
PG: London Perrantes (4.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PG: Eric Atkins (14.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.0 apg)
SG: Demetrious Jackson (6.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Pat Connaughton (13.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.8 apg)
PF: Zach Auguste (6.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.4 apg)
C: Garrick Sherman (15.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.9 apg)
UVA takes its first trip to a (recent) expansion member of the conference, to the Land of the Golden Dome, on Tuesday - when the temperature in the Midwest is fully expected to be on the south side of zero and the wind on the north side of 25. The team's travel is reportedly weather-complicated, and, well, there's a reason I call these the dark days of February. (Yes, it's not technically February yet. Shut up.) But the team is rolling, and Notre Dame is reeling, in the midst of a much worse season than they were expected to have. A win would keep the Hoos within scratching distance of Syracuse; since Duke knocked off Pitt tonight, a loss would drop UVA into a three-way tie at 6-2.
-- UVA on offense
Defense has been ND's weak point this year. Teams shoot the ball well against the Irish, and the problem here is twofold. One, they've got a lot of size but it's all way down low; the guards are actually on the small side. Two, their bigs aren't proficient shot-blockers. Center Garrick Sherman swats a few, but not as many as you'd like for a near 7-footer. The team's block-rate leader, forward Austin Burgett is out for "7-10 days due to cardiac surgery" which easily takes the prize for most incongruous injury report ever. One day someone will be expected to miss 2-4 weeks due to death and then they can have that prize for their silver lining, but til then, that one takes the cake.
Burgett will hopefully be fine in the long run - that sounds scary but presumably the doctors know a thing or two about their job - but won't be playing tomorrow. It takes a bite out of ND's depth. Up front they'll be able to manage; there are three guys standing over 6'10" in Sherman, Zach Auguste, and Tom Knight, and the Irish may give a few more minutes to lightly-used V.J. Beachem, a lanky freshman.
Notre Dame is crazy-thin at guard, though. Part of the reason teams shoot threes so well against ND might just be that their guards are forced to chill out a bit on defense lest they lose their legs. Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton play 37 and 36 minutes a game, respectively. It's a conservative defense that fouls very little and doesn't get a world of steals - still almost twice as many as VT, though.
One of the benefits of this crazy run the Hoos are on is that the rotation has settled down, something UVA can use to its advantage against a thin team like Notre Dame. Though the Irish have made a few late-game pushes lately, it's still to UVA's advantage to have a guy like Malcolm Brogdon and his deceptive quickness, or Justin Anderson and his tendency to bounce off the walls, coming in fresh while ND's scorers have played the whole game.
This could also be a good game for Mike Tobey, who always looks good except for when he gets multiple shots blocked on one possession. This happens more often than you'd want, but ND doesn't seem likely to come up with a sudden swat storm; Knight in particular is notoriously unathletic. Wake Forest's Devin Thomas just went apeshit on the Irish defense, shooting 10-for-11, so, while I don't foresee any of our bigs taking over the game like that, they'll all have their chances, and UVA can find some mismatches down low.
-- UVA on defense
Losing Jerian Grant might've been the catalyst for all the losing ND is doing; it cost them a guy who could not only score from anywhere he liked but was a terrific passer. There are still three guys left on this team who can score prolifically: Sherman, Atkins, and Connaughton.
That's basically the lineup. Sherman shoots A LOT, and hits on enough of them to be worth it, but not so many that he commands all your attention. He's a very good rebounder at both ends of the court, too, but when he's out (he plays 27.4 mpg) ND basically just hopes to get by down low. Auguste and Knight are not terrible, but that's as far as I'll go in their praise.
Atkins and Connaughton will hurt you from deep if you let them. Connaughton makes his bread by hanging out away from the play and being found by a passer; 100% of his threes are assisted. Both he and Atkins generally prefer the jump shot, though Atkins will find his way to the rim at times. The backcourt is rounded out by Demetrious Jackson, good for about one three-pointer a game and a few miscellaneous buckets here and there.
Bottom line, though, is that when Atkins, Connaughton, or Sherman are out of the game, ND loses a major scoring punch, which is why Sherman doesn't come out much and the two guards basically never do. It's part of the reason, I'd imagine, that the defense is so conservative; put Atkins or Connaughton in foul trouble and the Irish are just about sunk. The Irish don't get to the line much themselves, either, but neither do they turn the ball over. They play deliberately and look for their shot - about two-thirds of which will come from one of those big three.
You have to respect Sherman, Atkins, and Connaughton. There's a reason I've said their names so much here. These guys could find a role on any ACC team. Everyone else....jyeh. Notre Dame regularly goes only about eight deep - losing Burgett only makes it worse - and they don't really trust the back end of that rotation. The Domers have given some talented teams (Iowa, Ohio State) a run for their money, and knocked off Duke in their inaugural ACC game. It went sour quick after that, though - ND is 2-5 in the conference, with only the Wake Forest loss coming against a winning team (and c'mon, Wake is not that good.) They even let the Hokies come into their gym and almost win. If the rough travel and the cold don't get to UVA, the Hoos ought to come out with a win - a grinder if they can't hit their threes and a blowout if they're hot from deep.
Final score: UVA 62, ND 52
A quick rumination on the VT game: it was boring. Precisely what I'd hoped for. Good teams should come into the JPJA all nervous and hoping to maybe escape with a win; crappy teams should leave having never felt from start to finish that they ever had a glimmer of a chance. UVA sucked the life out of the Hokies and ground them into the dirt. Hey, it's the middle third of the ACC season - they can't all be wildly entertaining circus shows. At some point, you get to be so good and the opponent so bad that a blowout is par for the course. It was mostly a plodder of a game, with VT being forced numerous times to hork up something that would be an insult to legitimate prayers to call it that. I think the Hokies only had one 35-second violation, but must have run the clock down inside 3 seconds eight times. By that time it was less "well crap maybe this will go in" and more "here, just take the ball and put this possession out of its misery."
I found myself, during the game, with lots of time for the mind to wander, contemplating as to whether any of the current VT team would find a niche on UVA's squad. I don't think I'd trade any of our guys for theirs, heavens no, unless we're talking a back-end player for a star. Devin Wilson probably has more upside than Teven Jones, for example - but that's our third point guard and their first and we don't even know what we have in Devon Hall. But would I take any Hokies and just add them to our lineup? Maybe Jarell Eddie, but only in an Evan Nolte role. Eddie would be forbidden from shooting inside the arc and not depended on for a lot of defense. Wilson would need to get his turnovers under control, but I at least like his ability to find the free throw line.
The rest of them? No. Their bigs are awful. OK, Raines and Barksdale aren't terrible, but they don't do anything as well as our top three bigs (Gill, Mitchell, Tobey) and have about the scoring touch of Darion Atkins but with a great deal less athleticism. van Zegeren's a stiff. I haven't seen Ben Emelogu in action yet except for the other day and he was still working off a bum ankle, so it wasn't quite fair to judge, but the fact that they're giving minutes to Will Johnston and Trevor Thompson (whose patented travel-and-arm-hook move must've been allowed by the refs out of pure pity) is all you need to know about why the Hokies are firmly entrenched in the bottom of the league.
They may have something of a future - Emelogu and Wilson are solid building blocks, as should be Adam Smith when healthy. van Zegeren can defend, and their freshman class next year includes Jalen Hudson, to whom UVA gave a very long and hard look before ultimately not offering. (It's a lightly-regarded class overall, though.) But with the benefit of hindsight, they torpedoed their own program by firing Greenberg. Now they have a coach in over his head and a huge talent gap, which itself is largely due to the firing - have you noticed Montrezl Harrell at Louisville lately?