So this week I got an email from a childhood friend who just so happens to write for UVA's SBNation site Streaking The Lawn. Tim and I played sports together growing up and he was always a huge sports fan. I keep up with UVA sports, but when Tim reached out to me I figured his thoughts would probably be more in depth than my own. Therefore, instead of writing a preview for tonight's game at UVA I decided to go with a Q&A. We'll use this article as the gamethread for tonight's game as well.
Head on over to Streaking the Lawn for my responses to his questions.
UVA was expected to be much improved this season, but I didn't expect them to be this good. Have they exceeded your expectations?
They’ve definitely exceeded my expectations. I feel like we’re playing at the level I thought we’d be playing next year. A large part of that has been Mike Scott’s return, obviously. But the way the team has gelled on the defensive end is probably the biggest story. The players clearly understand Bennett’s Pack-Line Defense and they’ve bought into it. We’re holding conference opponents to 51 points per game. As long as we have something resembling a decent offense, we’ll have a chance to win every game this year.
What has been the impact of losing starting center Assane Sene to injury? How would you assess Akil Mitchell's job filling his shoes?
Losing Assane Sene has certainly hurt us on the defensive end. Sene has never really become a polished player on either end of the court, but the fact is, a 7-foot player takes up a lot of space no matter what he’s doing. He has been doing better this year, though, especially on the defensive end. He had fifteen blocks before being sidelined. That’s not really an extraordinary number of blocks, but the next closest player on the team has nine, and behind that, it’s six. Compare that with Clemson, for instance, where you have five players with at least eleven blocks. Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins have done a serviceable job replacing Sene so far. Neither one of them is the same type of player – both are smaller, but more athletic. But they’re both talented. I’d say experience is the biggest reason for a drop-off there. This is Sene’s third year in Tony Bennett’s defense. Mitchell is a sophomore and Atkins is just a freshman. So clearly there’s a drop-off there. Mitchell admitted he was very nervous after his first start (in the loss to Virginia Tech). But he bounced back and was solid against Boston College and the radio crew named him the player of the game. Atkins is still a work in progress but he’s an exceptional athlete. If he gets enough minutes, expect to see a monster dunk of some variety.
Mike Scott and Joe Harris have been carrying the scoring load for the Hoos. Who else should Clemson be concerned with offensively?
Zeglinski has to be the next concern. For the season, he’s the team’s third-leading scorer with 9.1 points per game. Fortunately for the ‘Hoos and unfortunately for the Tigers, it seems like his shooting slump – he was 9 of 39 in the first five conference games – ended with the last two minutes of the BC game and the whole N.C. State game. He made his first four three pointers against the Wolfpack (and six consecutive, going back to the BC game) to break that bad trend. He likes to shoot it from just about anywhere on the offensive half of the court. NBA-range threes are not uncommon. Also keep an eye out for freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon. He’s been a pleasant surprise this year, mostly spelling Jontel Evans. He’s not the defensive player that Evans is, but he’s much better on the offensive end. He likes to take it to the rack, but has no problem spotting up for a three pointer as well (much to Bennett’s chagrin, he often does it a bit too early in the shot clock).
If you could take one player off of Clemson's roster and add them to UVA's who would you take?
I’d have to go with Devin Booker. As I mentioned in the answer to #2, we need a big man with some experience to replace Assane Sene. Beyond that, we need a big man who can take some of the pressure off of Mike Scott, who currently gets double-teamed just about every time he touches the ball. Booker has good scoring, rebounding and block numbers and seems to be the Tigers’ best all-around big man. That said, given the loss of our resident 7-foot foreigner with a funny name, I’m tempted to say I’d like to take Catalin Baciu. So it’s a toss-up really. Stats or funny name. I’m not sure.
John Paul Jones arena is one of the nicest venues in the country. With UVA playing very good ball this year, what's the atmosphere been like for home games?
The atmosphere has been a little up and down throughout the course of the year so far, but definitely better than the last couple years. It has really helped to have the students back after winter break. I think perhaps they took note of our national ranking while they weren’t busy with classes and realized they should start showing up when they got back. The student turnout for both the Virginia Tech game and the Boston College game has been great, and the students are very loud. There’s also a nice large contingent of amusing Mike Scott posters (if you don’t know why, check out the comments on this ESPN article). Keep an eye out for those, as they’re quite hilarious.
Prediction time...who you got?
I’m going to say that this game follows a similar game flow as the Boston College game did. The Tigers will hang close with the Cavs for 20-25 minutes before Virginia pulls away as Clemson gets tired of fighting the pack-line. Let’s call it Virginia 61, Clemson 51.