I'm a Virginia alum and fan and a native of NYC who now lives not all that far from Lansing, just across the border in Ontario. The last time UVA was in the Sweet 16, it was 1995, I was 29, and I never could have imagined just how long it would take to return again to make a big splash in the Big Dance.
So like most Cavalier fans, I'm thrilled to be back, totally pumped after winning the ACC regular season title by 3 games and the winning the conference tournament, and all my focus is on Friday night and the showdown with MSU.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for your program and Coach Izzo, who's managed to be one of the top coaches in the country the past couple of decades without being a cheater, no small feat in today's basketball environment.
So I thought I'd give you all a preview of UVA from a fan's perspective:
(1) The Virginia you will face Friday bears little resemblance to the one that stumbled through November and December. We started the season with a Freshman point guard and four sophomores among are first 7 players, including two sophomores who had red-shirted last year, one because injury, one because he was a transfer. It took time for them to learn their roles and play as a team, and until that happened there were some bad losses, most notably the blowout at Tennessee. Since January 1 we have lost twice, once at Cameron in the last minute, and once at Maryland after we clinched the ACC title. By many measures (Kenpom, BPI) we have been an elite team.
(2) London Perrantes has become more than a playmaker at the point. He began the year shooting infrequently and poorly even though you could see the goof form that made him a scorer in high school. In the past 10 games, with so much riding on the outcome, Perrantes has shot 36 3-pointers and made 23. That's not a typo. And he's still a great playmaker, with just 10 turnovers total in that 10 game stretch.
(3) Also making big steps is Anthony Gill, our red-shirt transfer sophomore who comes off the bench but logs as many minutes as a starter. His strength is on the post or at the elbow, where he uses quickness, great moves and strength to make shots and draw fouls.
(4) Our center, Mike Tobey, has been inconsistent, but when he is on, shows excellent touch and can shoot with either hand. He's coming off a strong game where he shot 5 for 8 including a 3-pointer.
(5) Our most consistent player is our shooting guard, Malcolm Brogdon, affectionately known as the Brogdonator because of his strength and stoicism. He'll hit 3-points, mid-range jumpers and make strong drives to the basket with either hand, then play exceedingly tough defence and be a force on the boards. And he's a strong passer too. And shoots close to 90% from the free throw line.
(6) Our most explosive scorer is Joe Harris, who has one of the prettiest 3-point shots in the country and will also drive hard to the basket tough not always under control. Virginia has been strong enough this year to win games when Harris is cold. When he is hot, though, our offense reaches another level.
(7) Our best defender is Akil Mitchell, who at 6'8" shows great strength and quickness, able to guard inside or on the perimeter. He's also our best rebounder. His offense this year has been more miss than hit, but he too has games where he is more explosive.
(8) Our 6th man, Justin Anderson, is our best athlete and an unrelenting positive force for his teammates. He has struggled on offense but remains a stellar defender, rebounder and shot-blocker, the latter not for the quantity but the quality -- he's had highlight blocks on transition that have turned around the momentum of games.
(9) Even Nolte received little playing time during the ACC season but has played well in the NCAA tournament. He may be our best pure shooter but his minutes will be limited because of a lack of athleticism and quickness on defense.
(10) Speaking of defense, we play a modified man-to-man where four players are always inside an imaginary arc a few feet inside the 3-point line, making penetration more difficult because defenders need to move only short distances to close off driving and passing lanes. The 5th player pressures the ball handler. As the opponent moves the ball, that 5th man changes, so defenders must adapt quickly, and they do. Badly discipline teams such as Memphis end up forcing shots and shooting a low percentage. And having 4 players inside the pack line usually makes for strong defensive rebounding. The best way to break the pack line is either by penetrating and kicking out or by patient ball movement. We will double strong post players too; if they aren't adept passers, they struggle.
(11) UVA will do what it can to limit transition baskets, with players quickly dropping back after a missed shot. The Spartans will want to create as many transition points as possible to avoid facing the pack line. This will be a critical area.
(12) Someone asked about the site Steaking the Lawn. The Lawn is the original campus designed by Thomas Jefferson with a rotunda at one end and classically designed buildings down two sides. It is one of the most scenic spots you'll find on any American campus: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Lawn_UVa_colorful_winter_sun_2010.jpg The streaking refers to a tradition by one fraternity that is self-explanatory.
Looking forward to our match-up Friday.