Game 1

Virginia 1.126PPP (season average 1.009PPP)

Gardner Webb .889PPP (season average .994PPP)

First half

Virginia’s first opponent in the tournament was 16 seed Gardner Webb, who I would say was definitely tougher than your average 16 seed. They are an elite jump shooting team, which is no problem for Virginia because they are great at defending inside and out. Based on Gardner Webb’s stats this year they seem to be big believers in analytics and very rarely take mid range jumpers. Gardner Webb started the game off very hot, and had a ton of energy, you could tell by looking at their bench. They took control of the game right from the start, and like many others I was worried Virginia was going to lose to the 16 seed for the second straight year. Virginia started with the lineup they started most of the year which starts Jack Salt instead of Mamadi Diakite. Virginia seemed like they may have been nervous early and had a stretch where they had 5 straight turnovers, which is very uncharacteristic of them. The first one was a poor read by Ty Jerome which is rare for him. The next possession they hit Jack Salt in the short roll, a position where he has to dribble, which isn’t his strength, and it ends in a turnover. The third turnover was also by Ty Jerome, but this was actually a situation where his excellent vision hurt him.

Ty saw that Mamidi Diakite would be wide open on the roll because of how much Diakite’s man hedged, but Diakite doesn’t see it quickly enough, so Ty throws it out of bounds. The fourth turnover was a travel on Diakite which I think was a bad call, reffing is a hard job and they make mistakes sometimes. The final turnover on a stretch was by Kyle Guy when he attempts to drive baseline, but I’m blaming it partly on Jerome for his poor spacing. He needs to be all the way in the corner to give Guy more space to drive.

If Jerome is in the corner it puts the guy he’s guarding in a tough decision whether to help on the drive or stick with a very good shooter in Jerome. The possession that ended the drought wasn’t a great possession, it was Guy bailing them out by making a tough step back mid range shot, that the defense will live with. The spacing and screening was very bad on this bad offensive drought. They find themselves down 10-6 and Gardner Webb has scored twice on post ups where Bennett didn’t use his famous post double team on the catch. I wouldn’t have also, I would assume my High Major D1 guy can stop the Low Major D1 guy 1 on 1 in the post, and that way my players could stay home on Gardner-Webbs three point shooters. Mid-way through the first half things aren’t getting better for Virginia as Gardner-Webb is destroying their hard hedge Pick and Roll Coverage. The advantage to the hard hedge is the ball-handler can’t downhill right away and is normally forced to move backwards, but one weakness of a hard hedge is it is susceptible to slips and this is where Gardner-Webb was taking advantage. To prevent the slip the guy hedging has to keep a hand on the screener’s hip and the Virginia players didn’t do a good job of that in the first half. Gardner Webb did a great job of moving the ball fast instead of catching and holding. You can’t catch and hold Vs. Virginia (or any good defense) because that gives the defense more time to get in perfect help position. Unless you have elite isolation players, all good offenses move the ball fast in modern basketball, and have a lot of player movement. The faster you move the ball the harder it is for the defense to be in the correct help position. Virginia gets beat on another slip with 7:33 to go down 28-14 which was their largest deficit of the season. What happens next is a perfect example of why having an elite leader and competitor like Ty Jerome that refuses to give up is so important. The next possession down he bails them out with a tough stepback two. Virginia does get scored on the next time down, but then the next offensive possession Jerome gets in the lane and makes an incredible pass to Guy for 3 to cut it to 30-19. Virginia adjusts and goes back to their traditional post double the play after and then gets a steal. The next play Jerome gets to the free throw line off a drive off of no passes. He is taking over, and showing his elite will to win. The whole team is feeding off his energy and competitiveness, you can see it on the bench. To win Championships you need elite competitors like Jerome on your side when adversity hits. Virginia starts defending the ball screen continuity better at the end of the half and cut the lead to 6 at halftime.

Second half

In the second half, Tony changes the starting lineup and starts Diakite instead of Salt, which is a great decision because he is simply just better than Salt on both ends of the floor. That is no knock on Salt, Diakite has a good chance to be a first-round draft pick Next year. Virginia is so energetic at this point. Diakite starts the half with 4 straight points and would be 6 if he didn’t go 0-2 from the line. Gardner Webb is having trouble defending so they go into a 1-3-1, but Tony makes a great decision to put Jerome in the middle, because of his incredible court vision, and he finds Hunter for an easy dunk. Defensively they also made an adjustment and started switching a lot 1-4 between Clark, Guy, Jerome, Hunter, and it was giving Gardner Webb a lot of trouble. At 16:28 Hunter does an awful job spacing on the ball screen which forces a bad shot.

Hunter needs to be spaced out way further to his right to give Jerome more space to attack. However, 5’9” Kihei Clark gets the rebound because he simply wants the ball more than anyone else on the court. He then finds Hunter for an And 1 and the Virginia bench goes crazy. They are feeding off their elite culture and energy which is more important than any X and O for winning. At the 14:40 mark, Gardner Webb gets their 6th turnover of half, Virginia’s energy is speeding them up. They also don’t score from 18:17-14:00 minutes and then finally score on a tough contested three by David Efianayi. You can see after the shot Gardner Webb isn’t showing much energy on the bench, which I may be overreading it, but to me that looks like their belief is shot. Tony didn’t sub until 11:26 and the score with the lineup he started was 22-5. The lineup is so good on both ends because it has 3 very good shooters (Guy, Jerome, Hunter), 1 solid shooter (Clark), then Diakite can hit the open shot and is a great finisher around the rim that is a lob threat. It has 4 guys with a great feel for the game, Diakite is the one that doesn’t, but he is not a dumb player just pretty average feel. Then more important than anything all 5 of them are great competitors that hate to lose. The bench seemed to respond well to the positive energy. When Braxton Key came in the game on his first offensive possession he got an offensive rebound, then got fouled going for a second offensive rebound. Later in the same possession, he hit a three. The rest of the half Virginia kept there steady lead.

Summary

Gardner Webb came out swinging and was not scared of the 1 seed Virginia. There is not a “correct” Pick and Roll coverage and Virginia chooses to use a hard hedge. The weakness to this is it is very susceptible to slips, and Gardner Webb exposed that to get the early lead. Ty Jerome got in the zone when they were down 28-14 and took over the game. He created good scoring opportunities for himself and teammates on three straight possessions. This is when Virginia really picked up their energy, which is what ultimately won them the game. I think it was also a great decision for Bennett to switch Diakite in the starting lineup in the second half, he had a big impact on the 22-5 run they started the second half with. Virginia responded great to the early adversity, and that is what got them the win. A lot of less mature teams would have folded and not stuck together in the same situation, and it started with the stretch where their leader and team MVP Ty Jerome started taking over the game.

Stats

Virginia

Points: 71

FG: 28-54

3FG: 7-23

FT: 8-13

A-TO ratio: 12-15

Offensive Rebounds: 12

Gardner-Webb

Points: 56

FG: 22-50

3FG: 9-23

FT: 3-4

A-TO ratio: 10-16

Offensive Rebounds: 5