Since I'm guessing a lot of Michigan Basketball fans aren't familiar with Virginia Basketball, here's a Q&A with Brian Leung of Streaking The Lawn, Virginia's SBNation Blog. I answered some questions of theirs too, so head over there and check it out!
1.) After two transition years, it looks like Tony Bennett has a very solid, NCAA Tournament level squad in year three after coming to Virginia from a successful tenure at Washington State. What has he done to right the ship for Virginia Basketball?
For starters, he’s brought in talent. He’s been a beast on the recruiting trail, which is why our freshman and sophomores are getting so much playing time. On top of this, the team wasn’t exactly depleted of talent before Bennett came in. Former head coach Dave Leitao was simply not a good fit for the team – he had a style that didn’t jive will with players or fans, and unfortunately, this led to poor performances on the court. Bennett, being "a players’ coach," connects with the players on every level, and I think this lets the kids "buy in" to his slow, methodic system more easily than the case might be with another coach. He’s also the only coach in the ACC who actually played in the NBA, so I’m sure that gives him instant court-cred with the players.
2.) Virginia hasn't played a great non-conference schedule so far, but they've looked phenomenal on defense as they haven't allowed more than one point per possession yet this year. Why is Virginia's defense so successful?
Basically, we’re going to bore the other team to death. Virginia runs a slow, packline defense. Bennett does not want his players to get beat in the transition game, so rarely will you see a Virginia game with lots of back and forth action. In fact, if both teams score more than 60, we in Charlottesville will start calling it a shootout. It’s yet to happen this season. How well Michigan can attack our defense depends on how well you guys can move the ball around and how well you can shoot from beyond the arc. Our players are instructed to help out whenever you can, which means unsuspecting offenses will find themselves in Trap City, but it also means that, if you can move the ball quickly enough, you’ll find a guy or two out of position. Also, Virginia places a heavy emphasis on preventing penetration (the safest basketball is abstinence). So if your boys are comfortable with shooting the long ball, you’ll be pretty strong.
3.) On the other side of the coin, Virginia's offense hasn't looked particularly good this year. Mike Scott is a terrific player and he'll give Michigan a lot of problems, but how else will the Wahoos try to attack the Michigan defense?
The great thing about this year’s Virginia squad is that almost anyone can shoot from almost anywhere, despite what the season has shown so far. Virginia’s offense is not very quick. We generally rely on passing the ball around until we find a guy on the inside who can make a throw up a soft touch, or we rely on swinging the ball around until our perimeter guys are free and squared up for a shot. Unless Sammy Zeglinski is back to good health again (and I think he will be), don’t expect anyone running along the baseline swerving in and out of traffic to try to create some open space for ourselves. Sophomore Joe Harris barely missed the All-ACC Rookie Team last year (we suspect), and he can make it rain threes if he finds his shot. Even Jontel Evans, who, frankly, just wasn’t a scoring threat last year, has found a way to hit threes, particularly since teams are giving him the space. Michigan should focus on defending the perimeter more than anything else.
4.) Okay, who do you think will win the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and more importantly, who's going to win the game in Charlottesville?
I’d be foolish to pick anyone other than the ACC to win this. Despite what the past couple years in this challenge have shown us, the ACC is still king when it comes to basketball. I like most of the matchups this year to go in the ACC’s favor, and I think the Virginia-Michigan game will actually be the toughest for the ACC in terms of it being an uphill fight (Both marquee matchups, Ohio State/Duke and Wisconsin/Carolina, will be great games and could go either way).
I think Virginia has underperformed this year. The Hoos have a pretty weak out of conference schedule and can’t afford to lose big matchups like this one. It’s a prime time home contest on ESPN2 – expect Virginia to come out with everything it’s got. I think it’ll be enough, too. I’m going to be homerish and pick Virginia to come out with a narrow victory.
Thank you to Streaking The Lawn for answering some questions. The Game Preview should be up later today.