As soon as the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed on Selection Sunday, any talking points for Virginia’s Final Four hopes revolved around the presence of Michigan State, the team that has sent a top-seeded Wahoos team each of the last two seasons, in the Midwest Region.
Sparty’s gone, and the upsets in the bottom have guaranteed Virginia will face a double-digit seed in the Elite Eight if they can win just one more game. But the next game might be the toughest in the efforts to make the Final Four for the first time since 1984, facing off against a hot Iowa State team on Friday in the Sweet 16.
Virginia and Iowa State tip off at 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS and can be streamed on March Madness Live.
Virginia guard London Perrantes, a self-described “basketball junkie” gave his scouting report of Iowa State to reporters on Thursday.
“First 10 seconds offensively want to get up some quick shots,” Perrantes said. “Anybody can push the ball up the floor from Niang to the point. Offensively, they have a lot of firepower, but our defense is what we pride ourselves on. Good defense versus good offense, that’s what we’re going to go for.”
According to KenPom, Friday night’s showdown in Chicago features the country’s third-most efficient offense in Iowa State going up against Virginia stifling defense, ranked fourth in efficiency.
Speaking of KenPom, did you know Anthony Gill is No. 10 in Pomeroy’s player of the year ratings? A combination of the Brogdon’s shine and the ACC’s depth had Gill earning third team all-conference honors, but this tournament has been spotlighting the senior’s importance to Virginia’s success.
Virginia has one of the best defenses in the country, but its also coming off arguably the best offensive half of the season. Locked in a battle with Butler, Malcolm Brogdon moved over to guard Andrew Chrabascz after the big man scored 25 points in the first 25 minutes of the game. On the offensive end, the four-guard lineup (Perrantes, Brogdon, Shayok, Dev Hall with Anthony Gill down low) gave Virginia some more freedom to play offensively and it led to 53 points and 73 percent shooting in the second half of that 77-69 win.
Brogdon’s ability to guard all five positions on the court is a crucial piece to the matchup math. There will be a lot of scheming on Friday night in the United Center, the building where Tony Bennett played his final NBA game, but don’t be surprised if the ACC Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t get the call to guard Georges Niang, another skilled big with even more accolades than Butler’s Chrabascz.
“He’s so physical and strong. He forces you to do what he wants you do to, without fouling,” senior forward Evan Nolte said of his teammate. “[Brogdon] is a big stocky guard that has the speed of someone that’s not that size.”
It cannot be emphasized enough: get your popcorn ready for Friday night when these two teams tip it off. Virginia will have to decide between crashing the offensive boards or getting back on defense to set up for Iowa State’s quick-strike attack. The Cyclones could be in trouble if the Wahoos are hitting their threes or playing as efficiently as they did against Butler in the second half, but the same could be said of Niang and Co. get hot and Virginia has to press on offense.
According to Tony Bennett, the key for Virginia will be to avoid reinvention and stick to the plan.
“They’re so efficient, how they can score, how they can stretch you with their balance, with Niang, everybody talks about that. But we’re going to have to be really good at what we do, and try not to yield and of course make them earn everything and be as efficient as we can offensively, and of course they’re going to try to do their thing,” Bennett told reporters on Thursday. “That’s always at stake when you start the game and you just battle away, your system, your style, and there has to be some freedom to make plays, all that stuff.”