Florida’s 80-65 win over East Tennessee State yesterday puts them into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll face a Virginia team notorious for its defense but struggles mightily on offense. Here’s what you need to know about the Cavs:
|VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (22-10)|
|Tony Bennett||KenPom: 7th||309th||1st|
|Record: 188-82||RPI: 18th||66.5 PPG||55.6 PPG|
Breakdown: Their personnel might change, but their style never will. The Cavaliers are famous for their pack line defense, which means that they start out in man to man but then collapse toward the hoop in a concentrated effort to deny their opponent access to the paint. This defense has worked well for Tony Bennett’s squad, as their scoring defense isn’t just tops in the country, but ranks a full point per game ahead of the next closest Division I team. And if you don’t hit a lot of three pointers, your offense is probably going to struggle, period.
Unfortunately for Virginia, what they have in defense, they lack in offense. Virginia averages a woeful 66.5 points per game and ranks outside the top 300 in every single offensive statistical category. London Perrantes averages 13 points a game, but after him the production drops off like a continental shelf. He’s going to need help from fellow guards Marial Shayok, Kyle Guy and Devon Hall in order to win tomorrow, particularly given that the Gators’ defense is similarly stingy. It does help them that Florida doesn’t have John Egbunu anymore, so look for the Cavs to try to take advantage of that and get some points out of Jack Salt down low.
Whether or not Mike White’s squad will beat Virginia essentially boils down to two things. One, Florida will have to make shots from the outside. They just have to. If you were to travel back in time from the future and tell me right now that they’ll make three three pointers or fewer, I would lay down a billion dollars that I don’t have on Virginia to win the game without a moment’s hesitation. Two, the Gators are going to have to find ways to get to the free throw line (as they did yesterday) and get some points there to take some of the pressure off the three point shooting. If Florida does both of those things, they’ll win by 20 points or more. The thing is, the “if” isn’t so easy to turn into reality.
Virginia wins if… The Cavs can get some production out of someone other than Perrantes. In all likelihood, this is going to be a very low scoring game. But Florida has more proven scorers than Virginia, so somebody else is going to have to help out to keep up with the Gators’ slightly-less-slow-than-Virginia scoring pace.
Florida wins if: they hit enough threes. They don’t need twenty of them, but they will need six or seven of them. They can probably hang in the game and maybe win it on enough transition buckets, free throws, and occasional drives and putbacks. They can blow the Cavaliers out of the water and erase any doubts about the game’s outcome if they get hot from outside.
Key stat: Virginia ended their season by losing their last five road games. I don’t particularly care what the NCAA calls it, playing the Gators in Orlando is a road game. By contrast, Florida has lost just twice all year when either being the true home team or significantly closer in proximity to the game’s venue.
Verdict: Florida is going to need better games from both Kevaughn Allen and Canyon Barry if they want to win this game. And I think they’ll get them. Maybe it’s blind optimism talking, or maybe it’s the fact that this team has proven to be resilient against anybody not named Vanderbilt that leads me to believe their two best players will bounce back and step up. Florida will struggle early, but adjust soon enough to run away with it late.
Prediction: Florida 71, Virginia 58