Previewing UVA basketball versus Maryland Eastern Shore

Virginia Cavaliers Basketball is BACK!

Back to back wins over Baylor and Illinois proved to the Nation that the Wahoos downswing is over. Between 2014 and 2019, the lowest Virginia finished a season in KenPom rankings was 12th. Since then, the finishes are 42, 19, 72. Right now, the team is ranked fifth, which matches their rank in national polls.

Maryland Eastern Shore is ranked sixth…in the MEAC. Overall, they rank 314th on KenPom. They are 1-3 with a home win over Marist on Tuesday. This will be Virginia’s second MEAC opponent of the season, after NC Central (ranked 241) Although that game was far closer than fans wanted it to be, the Wahoos did end up with a relatively comfortable win in the end. Virginia has never lost to a MEAC team.

NC Central shot 8/19 (42%) from downtown. It’s early in the season, but those Eagles are 35th in the nation in three point shooting. Teams that can shoot can give the Pack Line some problems.

This is Baylor’s freshman Keyonte George making a very tough three pointer with a hand in his face. Kudos to George, that’s basically impossible to stop. But, if you keep forcing those tough shots, you usually end up on top.

The big number right now for Virginia is the shooting. As a team, the Wahoos are shooting 47% from downtown. Last year’s team did not have a single player over 35%.

It isn’t just the shooting though. This team also ranks first in the nation in FT rate. Some of that is due to teams fouling late in games, but we’re still seeing more moves to the basket.

This is an and-1 from Francisco Caffaro of all people. It’s Kihei with the drive and dish. Kihei also, perhaps inadvertently, sets a screen to open up Caffaro’s path to the hoop.

And here’s Reece doing his part.

It’s not just dribble penetration. A pass works just as well.

Shedrick acts like he’s going to set a flare screen for Clark coming up from the baseline. But his man commits early to Clark. Shedrick and Beekman made the same read and it’s an easy pass and a layup. Great play design and great work from Reece and Kadin.

MDES is led in scoring by Zion Styles, a 6’3″ wing who can shoot it a bit, but not as well as he thinks he can. He’s quick enough to get into the paint, but doesn’t finish well. Last year, he was under 30% from three, and under 35% from two. That’s hard to do. He does get to the line a lot, although he’s a mediocre free throw shooter. In the early going this year, he’s 5/10 from three, but just 4/17 from two. Again, that’s tough to do. He is one of the most ball dominant players in the country, but he doesn’t create shots for others. His assist rate is lower than Francisco Caffaro’s.

This is his game. It’s pretty when the shot drops. That’s far too rare though.

The Hawks really have no size. Their starting lineup has nobody over 6’5″. No rotation players over 6’7″. Their leading rebounder is 6’5” Nathaniel Pollard, who is from Richmond and went to High School with UVA football’s Billy Kemp.

Pollard was also on the MEAC All-Defensive team. He can play, but he’s their center and he’s giving up half a foot to Kadin Shedrick. That doesn’t seem likely to end well for him.

We might actually see a lot of small ball from the Hoos. Playing Ben Vander Plas and Jayden Gardner on the floor together is still a size advantage over the Hawks, but also just puts so much talent on the floor.

Almost everybody on this team is a JUCO transfer. Two exceptions are PG Ahamadou Fofana (a transfer from Canisius) and Da’Shawn Phillip (a legit senior) That duo, along with Pollard, are the main threats to score against the Pack Line. They want to play fast, they want to force turnovers and get out in transition. Of course, that’s never easy to do against Virginia. This Virginia team actually has the firepower and quickness to get out in transition and run with the Hawks. You shouldn’t expect a track meet, but you should expect a few transition buckets. After all this team is averaging 11 fast break points per game this season. Last year’s team averaged fewer than five fast break points per game.

It starts with the defense, and the turnover leads to a fast break and-1 and a lead the Wahoos would not relinquish. So fun to watch.

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