Can Virginia Cut the Nets In Minneapolis?
After 10 years as head coach for Virginia, Tony Bennett finally cracked the Final Four with a dramatic 5 point win over Purdue. Virginia enters Minneapolis as the highest remaining seed and the only 1 seed, looking to bring the University its first basketball national championship in its long history. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Virginia a 52% chance to win the national title on Monday. To do so, they have to beat red hot Auburn and the winner of Michigan State vs. Texas Tech. It may be a tough road, but UVA has what it takes to cut the nets on Monday evening.
Virginia boasts what all great Virginia teams do: a spectacular defense. Led by defensive player of the year DeAndre Hunter, Virginia’s signature packline defense holds its opponents to less than 55 points per game as well as over 10 turnovers per contest. Bennett’s style of defense not only prevents scoring, it wears down offenses by forcing bad shots late in the shot clock, leading to early fatigue by the opposition.
The difference between this year’s team from past Virginia squads is the versatility it has on the other side of the ball. Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome lead the offense for Virginia, averaging over 40 points per game as a trio. Jerome and Guy are both lethal from the outside, and Hunter is an efficient slasher who can score at will. Outside of the big 3, Virginia gets a majority of its paint scoring from Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key. Key, primarily a defensive presence, can score inside or knock down an occasional jumper. Huff, despite limited minutes, is 7’2” with a three point stroke and the ability to dunk from the freethrow line. Diakite, who made headlines for his miraculous jumper against Purdue to send the game to overtime, has improved his post game and is very effective with the jump hook.
Virginia has had superstars in the past, though. However, a new offense that Bennett designed is the difference maker for the Cavs. In addition to the past blocker-mover offense, Virginia has incorporated high ball screens to free the point guard to find an open scorer. This is especially effective with freshman Kihei Clark dishing the ball out, as Clark has impeccable court vision despite the fact that he is undersized at 5’9”.
Virginia’s narrative has always been that it cannot win in March. Last years crushing defeat to UMBC only fueled that fire. However, with this hurdle passed, Virginia is ready to deliver the school a national championship. If Bennett is ever going to win one, this is his year.