After defeating Pitt Wednesday night, No. 6 seeded Virginia earned the right play Notre Dame in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Any Notre Dame fan knows what a thorn in the side Virginia has been for ND since the Irish joined the ACC. UVA is the only ACC program Notre Dame has yet to defeat and, frankly, none of the matchups have been close.
The Cavaliers defeated the Irish 71-54 in South Bend back in January. The level of frustration in their struggles against UVA is off the charts, but that plays right into the Cavs’ hands.
Virginia’s pack-line defense is as stingy as any defense in the country and when a team wants it too bad, like the Irish did in January, they tend to force things on offense.
Because UVA is so good defensively, opposing offenses tend to panic if they do not get a good look in the first 20 seconds of the shot clock and wind up turning the ball over or putting up a bad shot.
The UVA offense is also extremely patient and they are routinely one of the national leaders in least amount of turnovers. The Cavaliers also force teams to defend for most of the shot clock, so the cumulative effect of the system wears out their opposition.
After losing four in a row towards the end of the season (their games at UNC and vs. Miami was some of the worst offensive basketball I have ever seen), Virginia has righted the ship and won four straight, including a home win over North Carolina last Monday.
Both teams are different than their January matchup.
While Martin Geben has seen more playing time in the previous two games, the Irish have downshifted since the previous meeting. Bonzie Colson now sees the bulk of his minutes at the five, which allows more spacing and flow on offense – something that is at a premium against UVA.
The Cavaliers are also playing differently than they were in January. London Perrantes tore up the Irish in the first game to the tune of 22 points, including 5-8 from three-point range.
However, Perrantes has struggled with his shot down the stretch and UVA has become more reliant on freshman Kyle Guy from the outside.
As mentioned before, UVA is Navy football reincarnated on a basketball court. Their system is incredibly frustrating to play against and it is nearly impossible to comeback if a team falls behind early.
Like Navy football, however, UVA is also ill-equipped to come from behind.
It is exhaustive to reiterate how badly Virginia has ND’s number, it dates back to the 2008 NCAA Tournament when Washington State, then coached by Tony Bennett, held Notre Dame to 41 points in a second round game.
The Irish are going to have to shoot their way to a victory – there are no easy baskets against the half court UVA defense. ND can cut and slash to loosen up the Cavalier defense, but there will be times when the Irish are simply going to have to shoot over the defense.
ND went 3-18 in the first matchup despite having plenty of good looks. The first ten minutes will key because of the uphill battle that ensues if a team falls behind UVA and also because if the Irish miss a few open looks early, they can get into their own heads.
Bonzie Colson was the lone offensive threat in the first game as the junior tallied 20 points on 8-11 shooting, but was only able to corral three rebounds.
Virginia has a tendency to going through extensive scoring droughts, so it is imperative that the Irish limit their turnovers and UVA’s fast-break opportunities – make the Cavs score in the half court.
That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Matt Farrell.
As Farrell goes, so does the Irish. If he is able to penetrate the defense and find open shooters, the Irish have an excellent shot of getting on the UVA monkey off their back. Farrell pushing the tempo to find easy buckets in transition will be critical.
If, however, he forces the offense and is careless with the ball, ND could be in for a long night.
The Irish have great vibes in the Barclays Center. They are 5-1 all-time including two wins in the tournament last year and two wins in the Legends Classic in November.
Notre Dame well-rested and truthfully believe that March is their time. UVA could not have a bigger target on their back from ND’s perspective – a victory over Virginia and a Final Four appearance are the only things missing from V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia’s resume.
The Irish are too good of a program to remain on this UVA schneid, so why not end it tomorrow?