Game 5
Virginia 1.086PPP (Season Average 1.009PPP)
Auburn 1.087PPP (Season Average .982PPP)

First Half/Intro
The first thing that looks confusing in the top line is that Auburn had a higher PPP than Virginia, but lost the game. This shows how important every detail of a basketball game really is. From a per possession standpoint, Auburn very slightly outplayed Virginia, But Virginia had one more possession so they won the game. They had one more possession because they won the jump ball if Auburn wins that jump ball, and everything else in the game happens the same they would’ve won the game. This shows how important a small detail that barely anybody pays attention can have on winning a game. This game was of two very opposite styles, very slow-paced Virginia, and very fast-paced Auburn. Auburn tries to push the ball in transition, and if nothing is open they pull the ball out, and try to spread you out and let their super quick guards attack to either score or drive and kick for threes. They seem to be big believers in analytics and shoot a ton of threes, and rarely take long twos. Bruce Pearl is constantly encouraging his players to be aggressive and you can tell this by his reactions to their missed shots and turnovers. He wants his players in attack mode for 40 minutes, which makes this Auburn team very tough. Virginia primarily ran their blocker-mover offense this game.

In both of these instances, Auburn could have easily prevented these layups by having their bigs drop on the flare screen and protect the wrap to the basket. Diakite can hit a wide open three but isn’t much of a shooter, and Salt can’t shoot at all, so I’m not sure why their bigs aren’t completely helping in the lane to prevent this pass, and then letting Salt or Diakite catch the ball on the perimeter.

Throughout the first half, Virginia is doing a great job of getting back in transition and packing the lane, making it hard for Auburn to get anything easy. There was a stretch in the middle of the first half where Jerome comes out, and Virginia’s offense struggles. It was only 3 possessions without him in the half-court, but they all didn’t result in good shots, and 0 points, then Tony puts him right back him. Auburn was getting some really good looks in both halves after getting in the lane and kicking out for threes that missed, and it makes me wonder if it could psychological because they know they are getting nothing easy at the rim Vs. Virginia. They don’t seem to be hesitating but they missed a lot of wide open threes, and this is probably the number one thing that cost them the game. A lot of times when players missed wide open shots it is because they are over trying to make them, and that can often happen when you are getting no easy looks at the rim. Clark was very valuable defensively for Virginia, as usual, guarding an elite scoring guard in Jared Harper. Bennett made a great decision of subbing Clark in and out whenever Harper came in and out, so he would always have his best matchup against him. Hunter probably could have guarded him, but since he struggled a lot with Edwards the previous game it was smarter to keep Clark on him the whole time. Clark played incredible defense, and Harper didn’t score until the 4:30 mark in the first half. Harper averaged 15 points and 6 assists throughout the season, and Clark also did a great job of keeping him out of the lane. Most of Harper’s assists come from him breaking down the defense, drawing a help defender, and kicking to his man for a score. Since Clark is one of the few players in the NCAA that can match Harper’s elite quickness, Harper had a much tougher time getting in the lane.

Second half

If the screener slips this, they can throw it to him in the right in the middle of the floor, and Auburn will have a 4 on 3. More teams should expose this against a hard hedge because it is an easy way to create a 4 on 3 power play, which likely results in a good shot.

This was a great counter by Auburn to try to expose Virginia’s hard hedge. They had the first screener slip it, and then the second screener comes up out of the lane to screen to get Diakite out of the lane. It results in what should be an easy layup, but Because of Hunter’s incredible athleticism and effort, he gets there to prevent it, then Auburn has to kick the ball out, and Virginia ends up getting a stop on a missed three later in the possession. This was a great set by Auburn, but Virginia stopped it with their urgency and effort.

Another option for Harper could have been to fake pass to Purifoy (#3) underneath, get the defense running that way, and then hit Mclemore (#24) for a wide open three. The key to this is selling the pass with your eyes, and this is still underutilized in basketball today. The pass to Mclemore would have put Guy in a very tough decision on whether to close out to Mclemore and Leave Brown (an elite shooter) or stay home on Brown. If he closes to Mclemore, Hunter can close to Brown, but this would be a long closeout, which is very hard to do versus good shooting teams.

Auburn didn’t score for the first 5:48 of the second half, and a lot of this was because they missed easy jumpers. They would attack and get into the lane, then kick out for open threes that were missed. This stretch may have cost them the game, and this sounds very obvious but shows how much the game really comes down to who makes more shots. Pearl seemed like he especially wanted to spread the floor and attack Guy. Guy is probably the worst defender in the rotation for Virginia (although not a bad defender), and Pearl clearly thought his guards could get in the lane against him. They didn’t completely expose Guy but did beat him a few times to create good looks.

Shots like this sum up the game, Jerome makes this at the end of the shot clock, and Auburn missed a ton of wide open threes. I love that Bruce Pearl used a press to take even more time off the clock for Virginia. Virginia only had .931PPP versus a press on the year, which is a lot less efficient than their normal half-court offense.

This was an incredible ATO call from Bennett, and one of the best ATOs (if not the) of the entire tournament. Auburn thought that the play was clearly an elevator action for Guy, and then they relaxed once he caught the ball. They used Guy as a decoy and set a screen for Jerome who hit a wide open 3 to go up 10 with 5:22 left.

At the 4:30 mark, Jerome makes a rare mental mistake and commits a frustration foul. He is mad at the refs after he is clearly fouled by Jared Harper trying to defend him in the post, but instead of sprinting back on defense, he reaches on Harper in the full court and picks up a dumb foul, that was his 4th. Bennett is forced to take him out for a little bit. Jerome had to control his emotions better because if they would have lost this game, this easily could have been why, and it completely changed the momentum. The offense started struggling immediately right when Jerome comes out of the game. With Jerome out of the game, Auburn goes on a 6-0 run and cuts the lead to 3 at 57-54. At 2:18 Diakite goes 0-2 from the free-throw line, I may be overreading but he didn’t look excited to go the line after he drew the foul and didn’t look confident shooting the free throws.

If Guy isn’t in a position to top lock this screen I would like to see him trail a shooter like Brown and force him to curl. Instead, Brown flares out to the corner and hits a 3 to give Auburn the 59-57 lead.

Even with Guy taking the wrong route on the screen he still is there to contest the shot, and even though this went in this effort from Guy and the rest of his teammates is what won them the National Championship.

Jerome hesitates on this shot, and that causes the miss. This is an extremely tough shot after hesitating and playing with hesitation very rarely works.

Jerome needs to go somewhere on this Iso, he wanted a three at all costs even though they were only down 2. I respect his confidence, and that he was playing off instinct here, but driving he likely could have got a way better shot for himself or a teammate than this one. Mclemore comes down and goes 2/2 from the line to give Auburn a 4 point lead. The next play down Kyle Guy makes an incredibly tough shot with 7 seconds to cut the lead to 61-60. Auburn gets their best free-throw shooter to the line in Jared Harper, and he only makes 1-2. Virginia gets a side out with 1.5 seconds left down 62-60, and I like the play call from Bennett because it had multiple open options, and Guy setting a screen before getting his screen to the corner for 3, which could have possibly caused his man to help, and then he would have been late getting through the screen and Guy would have had an open 3.

Diakite’s man cheats the screen so the lob would not be open. Samir Doughty is guarding Guy and is doing a great job top locking at first. Guy does a great job of slapping his hands away (legally), and then gets a little space to come off the screen.

Doughty recovers well and is there to contest on the catch. Doughty contests a little too hard and doesn’t give Guy space to land which is a foul.

Kyle Guy goes to the line down 62-60 to decide their season. He makes 3/3 which shows incredible mental toughness and Virginia wins 63-62. Guy admits in the post-game interview that he was terrified, but he still found a way to lock in and go 3/3 and he deserves the win for that.

Summary
This is going to sound very basic and obvious, but this game came down to shot-making. After analyzing the film I have no doubt in my mind that Auburn created more quality shots than Virginia in this game, and Virginia just had a better shooting night. That is not taking any credit away from Virginia shot making is the name of the game. Auburn’s offense consisted of breaking down Virginia’s players off the dribble then kicking out for 3’s. They shot 9/31 from three this game which equals .87PPP. I think there is a chance they missed these threes for psychological reasons, either from playing in the Final Four or playing against Virginia where they know they are getting no easy looks at the rim. Below I charted all the threes both teams took and graded them as average, great, bad, and bad because of the end of the shot clock, and I showed their percentages in each category. As you can see they shot similar in every category except great looks. Virginia was 3-5 on their great looks, compared to Auburn who went 3-9. This was the big difference in the game, and if a team like Auburn that takes a ton of threes wants to win the National Championship they have to shoot better than 3/9 on wide open threes. Virginia clogged the paint with their packline defense, so they allowed nothing easy inside, so Auburn’s chance to win was hitting these shots.

Virginia 3’s
Average looks 4-12
Great looks 3-5
Bad shots 0-1
Enc clock bad shot 0-4

Auburn 3’s
Average looks 5-15
Great looks 3-9
Bad shots 1-4
End clock bad shot: 0-3

Stats
Virginia
Points: 63
FG: 25-53
3FG: 7-22
Ft: 6-12
A-To Ratio: 15-8
Offensive rebounds: 5

Auburn:
Points: 62
FG: 21-55
3FG: 9-31
Ft: 11-14
A-to Ratio: 9-5
Offensive rebounds: 9