The system is the star at Virginia. It’s the pack-line defense that Tony Bennett’s program employs that really gets the headlines by snuffing out opponents’ offenses.
Bennett, though, has some players, and London Perrantes took a big step Wednesday night in establishing himself as one of the most important of them.
The senior point guard was nothing short of spectacular in the second half – especially in the clutch – as No. 6 Virginia held off Ohio State, 63-61, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Perrantes is no stranger to the dedicated college hoops fan – he was a preseason first-team all-ACC selection – but was just an honorable mention all-ACC player last year after leading the league in 3-point shooting and helming a team that won 29 games as Malcolm Brogdon carried much of the offensive load. He’s not particularly flashy and he’s certainly not finding his way to many highlight packages, but, damn, is the kid good.
Especially when it matters most.
After going 1 of 5 from the floor in the first half, Perrantes connected on five of the seven shots he took, including all three of his 3-pointers, to score 15 in the second half and finish with 19 against the Buckeyes. That’s the totality of his impact, but when measured in its moments, his value is even more stark.
Ohio State scored four quick points just after the midway point of the second half to push its lead back to eight after Virginia had briefly taken the lead, having overcome a 16-point deficit, when Perrantes drilled his first 3-pointer of the half. Minutes later, his second 3-pointer halved the Buckeyes’ lead from six to three.
His final 3-pointer was the most important. After Virginia grabbed an offensive rebound, Perrantes launched a shot from distance with just under 4 minutes to play. Pure, to tie the game at 55.
As the stakes got higher, Perrantes’ jumper kept delivering, finding its mark with no care paid to the rising pressure.
Perrantes’ cool was also tested at the free-throw line, where coming into the night he had attempted just four shots on the season. With under 90 seconds to play, the senior strode to the stripe with his team up a pair. Swish. Swish. Lead doubled.
He got it done on the defensive end, as well, especially, you guess it, late. With just over 3 minutes remaining and the score tied, Perrantes played the passing lane, shrinking an already small window, and helped force an Ohio State turnover.
Virginia’s defense suffocated the Buckeyes in the second half, but Perrantes breathed life into the Cavaliers’ offense that was otherwise straining to maintain a pulse at times throughout the game.
With Brogdon and Anthony Gill graduated and Austin Nichols gone, Virginia, even with its system intact and running smoothly, is going to need guys to make plays. The Cavaliers need toughness and leadership. Grit and fearlessness.
London Perrantes showed emphatically Wednesday he’s the man for the job.
When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.
Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.
Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.
While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.
“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”
Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.
No. 2 Virginia’s starting point guard day-to-day with broken nose, mild concussion
With junior wing Justin Anderson sidelined with a broken left hand, No. 2 Virginia has continued to go about its business in hopes of winning a second consecutive ACC title. And in Sunday’s home game against Florida State, which the Cavaliers won 51-41, Tony Bennett had to account for another personnel loss in the second half.
While playing defense guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes collided, with Perrantes’ nose meeting the side of Brogdon’s face. While both left the game to be attended to, Brogdon was able to return to the court. The same could not be said for Perrantes, and on Monday the program announced that he suffered both a broken nose and a mild concussion.
Perrantes is considered to be day-to-day moving forward, with the Cavaliers visiting Wake Forest Wednesday night.
Without Perrantes freshman Devon Hall saw time at the point, playing nine minutes in the second half. And there were also occasions in which, once he returned to the game, that Brogdon was used to initiate the offense for Virginia. Should Perrantes have to miss game action, those two will share the responsibilities at the point for the Cavaliers.
Brogdon finished the game with ten points, with forwards Anthony Gill (13 points, nine rebounds) and Darion Atkins (11) leading the way for Virginia. Freshman wing Marial Shayok added seven points and six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
Yet even with the recent injury issues the pack line defense remains a constant for Virginia, which held Florida State without a field goal for the final 10:33 Sunday night. Following a Jarquez Smith jumper that gave the Seminoles a 37-36 lead, Florida State scored just four points (all from the foul line).
Whether or not Perrantes has to miss time, Virginia will continue to rely on a defense that has been right there with No. 1 Kentucky when it comes to the nation’s best.
Weekly Awards: Larry Nance leads Wyoming, Seton Hall’s pair of upsets
Nance was terrific in the first week of Mountain West play, leading the Cowboys to a 2-0 start and putting them in a position where they look like the favorite to win the league. On New Year’s Eve, Nance out-dueled UNLV’s Christian Wood, finishing with 29 points, five boards, three blocks and two steals in an impressive 76-71 win. He followed that up with 18 points, 13 boards and two assists as the Pokes came from behind to knock off San Jose State on the road. In the two games, Nance shot 17-for-27 from the floor.
As good as Wyoming has been in stretches this season, if they are going to be a Mountain West contender, they’re going to have a chance to prove it this week. They’ll be paying a visit to Colorado State on Wednesday night.
THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Jahlil Okafor, Duke: In wins over Elon, Wofford and Boston College, Okafor averaged 26.3 points, 8.0 boards, 2.3 blocks and shot 30-for-39 from the floor.
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: Collinsworth notched his third triple-double of the season in a win at San Francisco and averaged 13.7 points, 11.7 boards and 6.7 assists in three WCC wins.
London Perrantes, Virginia: Perrantes has been in a shooting slump this season but busted out of it in a big way on Saturday, finishing with 26 points and eight assists, hitting five threes, in a double-overtime win at Miami.
Shannon Evans, Buffalo: There have been six triple-doubles on the season, Evans has one of them, going for 14 points, 10 boards and 10 assists in a win at Binghamton. He followed that up with 33 points, five boards and four assists against Cornell.
Phil Forte, Oklahoma State: Forte led the Pokes to a pair of wins over Kansas State and Missouri last week, averaging 20.5 points and shooting 14.for-22 from the floor and 6-for-12 from three.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Seton Hall Pirates
Things didn’t look bright for Seton Hall entering this week, as the Pirates kicked off Big East play with home games against No. 15 St. John’s and No. 6 Villanova without their star guard, Isaiah Whitehead. That didn’t matter, however, as Kevin Willard’s club landed the two upset wins, which included a thrilling overtime win against the Wildcats.
The star of the week for the Pirates was Sterling Gibbs, who averaged 22.5 points and 6.0 assists in the two games. There is not a player in the conference who has been in better form than Gibbs, and his play — along with that of Jaren Sina and Khadeen Carrington — made the fans in Newark forget about Whitehead’s absence really quickly. Here’s the question: what happens when Whitehead, a high-volume and low-efficiency scorer, returns to the mix?
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
South Carolina: The Gamecocks made a statement on Saturday as they knocked off No. 9 Iowa State at the Barclays Center.
Maryland: The Terps moved to 2-0 in their first season in the Big Ten, picking up a win at Michigan State and knocking off Minnesota in College Park.
New Mexico: The Lobos lost Cullen Neal for the season, but they won their first two Mountain West games, including a blowout win over previously undefeated Colorado State.
Dayton: The Flyers put together a 2-0 week, including a win over Ole Miss, despite playing shot-handed.
Cincinnati: Mick Cronin won’t be coaching for the rest of the season, but the Bearcats played well without him. They blew out N.C. State in Raleigh and followed that up by beating SMU at home.
DePaul: The Blue Demons are 2-0 in the Big East. Seriously.
SET YOUR DVR
No. 14 Notre Dame at No. 19 North Carolina, Mon. 7:00 p.m.
No. 18 Oklahoma at No. 11 Texas, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
Wyoming at No. 24 Colorado State, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
No. 13 Kansas at No. 22 Baylor, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
No. 5 Louisville at No. 19 North Carolina, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 3 Virginia at No. 14 Notre Dame, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
No. 9 Iowa State at No. 17 West Virginia, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
No. 7 Virginia with a dominating, statement win at VCU
I say this without a hint of exaggeration or hyperbole: There aren’t ten tougher home court environments in the country than the Siegel Center, the home of VCU and ‘Havoc’.
Ram Nation packs that place to the brim, turning the roughly-7,000 seat building into a sweat box packed with rowdy Richmondians and the best pep band in the country, making it difficult to hear yourself think while trying to deal with handling the ball against a swarming defense that forces more turnovers than anyone.
And on Saturday, No. 7 Virginia went into the Siegel Center and put a beating on the Rams, winning 74-57.
Now, the final score is a bit misleading. VCU got three straight threes from Treveon Graham to make the score 59-55 with just over five minutes left in the game, and at that point — after Virginia had started to feel the effects of playing against that press for a full game, getting sped up and committing live-ball turnovers in bunches — it looked like the Rams were ready to finish off a game-changing run. But Virginia answered, scoring 15 straight points and hitting six straight shots from the floor to put the game away.
It was very, very impressive.
And it was a common theme all afternoon.
VCU’s pressure would bother Virginia in short spurts, but the Cavs’ back court of London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon did an excellent job of getting Virginia into their sets when they did break the press.
I wrote extensively on VCU and Havoc two weeks ago, essentially explaining why I thought the system had a ceiling. In short, it’s because good teams with good guards will not get flustered by the pressure, and that the Rams struggle too much on the defensive end in half court situations. Saturday’s game was a textbook example of that. Virginia committed 16 turnovers, with eight of those coming from Brogdon and Perrantes. They also shot 68.4% from the floor, 6-for-11 from three and routinely got dunks and layups once they broke the press.
I also wrote on Virginia last week, questioning just how good they will be offensively without the presence of Joe Harris on that end of the floor. I still think that may be an issue, but if Brogdon (18 points), Perrantes (nine assists), Justin Anderson (21 points, 3-for-4 from three) and Anthony Gill (18 points, 7-for-9 from the floor) continue to place somewhere close to that level, then my questions will end up looking foolish.
We’re entering a new era in the ACC, as Louisville enters the conference while Maryland exits to the Big Ten. Some old rivalries will die as a result — the Duke-Maryland rivalry in the early-2000s was as good as it gets — but the ACC is now the best conference in the country. The top four teams in the conference are all good enough to make a Final Four and win the ACC regular season title. There are at least six more teams that will have a chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It’s going to be a fun league to watch play out.
In: Louisville Out: Maryland
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The top four in the ACC is clear-cut: Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. Those are the four best teams in the ACC, and there really isn’t a debate to be had there. All four are ranked in the top ten of the NBCSports.com preseason poll, and all four are legitimate national title contenders. What order those four should be ranked is something we are all going to disagree on, but the bottom-line is this: no one else in the conference can even be called a consensus top 25 team. That said …
2. … the race for fifth place will be just as contested: There may not be another consensus top 25 team in the conference, but there are six teams in the league that could end up being ranked at some point during the season and earning themselves an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. All six could also end up missing the NCAA tournament. We have Notre Dame fifth and Miami tenth in our preseason poll. You could flip-flop them and I wouldn’t argue all that much. The middle of the league is going to be a mess.
3. The offseason talking points had more to do with students than athletes: Despite the fact that the ACC is home to four top ten teams, four players that made at least one appearance as a preseason first-team all-american and four hall of fame head coaches, the stories that dominated the headlines this offseason were all bad. Syracuse is staring down the barrel of an NCAA investigation into academic improprieties, improper benefits, failed drug tests and who knows what else. But those issues paled in comparison to what North Carolina dealt with this fall, as a damaging independent investigation into the academic fraud in the athletic department — the Wainstein Report — legitimized the questions surrounding Roy Williams’ program. It’s bad enough that there’s a real chance the 2005 national title could end up being vacated.
4. It’s been two years since a blueblood won an ACC title: For all the talk of the ACC’s bluebloods — Duke and North Carolina — and the storied programs the league swiped from the Big East — Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville — it’s mildly surprising that it has been a full two years since anyone of those programs have won an ACC regular season or tournament title. In 2014, Virginia won dual ACC titles. In 2013, Miami did the same.
5. Best point guard play in the country: You like watching elite ball-handlers? You’ll love the ACC this season. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Louisville’s Terry Rozier are going to get the majority of the attention, but that’s just the beginning of it. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant is talented enough to put together an all-american caliber campaign. Miami’s Angel Rodriguez was an all-Big 12 point guard before transferring out of Kansas State. Duke’s Tyus Jones is the nation’s best freshman point guard. Olivier Hanlan (Boston College), Codi Miller-McIntyre (Wake Forest), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State), Cat Barber (N.C. State). There are going to be some really good point guards that don’t sniff the all-ACC team.
PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Jahlil Okafor is my pick to be the National Player of the Year this season, so it would only make sense that he is the Preseason ACC Player of the Year as well. I expect Okafor to have an impact as a freshman similar to that of Jabari Parker last season, as the 6-foot-11 center will be the most-skilled low-post player in the country.
THE REST OF THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM:
Marcus Paige, North Carolina, Jr.: Paige was dominant at times as a sophomore, as he learned how to playthe role of facilitator until he needed to take over.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, Jr.: Louisville caught a bit of a break when Harrell made the decision to return to school for his junior season. We know about his work in the paint, but he’s hitting threes now as well.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, Jr.: Brogdon is one of the most underrated players in the country. He’s not flashy and won’t post huge numbers, but he’s consistent and the key for Virginia offensively.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, Sr.: Grant was having an all-american caliber season when he was suspended from school for the second semester. Expect him to pick up where he left off.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Terry Rozier, Louisville, So.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami, Jr.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, Jr.
Aaron Thomas, Florida State, Jr.
Tyus Jones, Duke, Fr.
BREAKOUT STAR: Terry Rozier had a handful of impressive performances as a freshman, but consistent minutes were tough for him to come by. Part of that was the result of playing the same position as all-american Russ Smith. But it wasn’t a secret that Rozier was the best pro prospect on Louisville’s roster last season, and using the 6-foot-2 combo-guard in a reserve role helped ensure that Rozier would be back for another season.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory is the obvious pick here, but it’s also the boring one. We know that the Yellow Jackets have not been good during his tenure, and when you’re the coach at an ACC school that isn’t winning, you’re job will be in jeopardy. What’s more interesting is the status of hall of famers Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams. Syracuse is currently dealing with an NCAA investigation into issues with academics and improper benefits while North Carolina is undergoing intense scrutiny regarding their use of “paper classes” and just how much of the cheating Williams was aware of.
Are they in danger of losing their jobs? Not unless they want to retire. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of coaches in any league facing more pressure entering the season than those two.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The ACC might get four teams into the Final Four, but will anyone else win a game?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Watching the top four teams in this league battle it out for a regular season title. The race for ACC Player of the Year will be fun as well.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Duke: I have my doubts about Duke, but the Blue Devils have the single-toughest matchup in the ACC in Jahlil Okafor roaming the paint and a ton of perimeter depth to surround him.
2. North Carolina: Picking the Tar Heels here means two things: Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both lived up to their potential, and Justin Jackson played like the McDonald’s All-American he is.
3. Virginia: The ‘Hoos don’t look menacing on paper, but they return the majority of their roster from a team that won a dual-ACC title last season.
4. Louisville: Love Rozier and Harrell, but there are some real question marks elsewhere on the roster. That said, a fourth-place finish in the ACC could still yield a top three seed.
5. Notre Dame: Jerian Grant — and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Connaughton — good enough to get Notre Dame to .500 on his own. The Irish will be a tournament team if Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia improve.
6. Syracuse: The Orange are loaded with athletes, especially in their front court. But the inconsistent Trevor Cooney is the only proven scorer and Kaleb Joseph is the only point guard. I could see the Orange missing the tournament.
7. N.C. State: Cat Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey is a talented back court, BeeJay Anya has shed a bunch of weight and Abdul-Malik Abu could end up being an all-freshmen team player.
8. Pitt: Getting Durand Johnson back healthy is key, as is the return of Cameron Wright and James Robinson. How good will Sheldon Jeter and Michael Young be up front?
9. Florida State: Aaron Thomas is one of the most underrated players in the league and the addition of Xavier Rathan-Mayes should be key. If they address their turnover and defensive rebounding issues, a top five finish is feasible.
10. Miami: The quartet of Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Deandre Burnett and JaQuan Newton gives the Canes a talented perimeter. But what about their front line?
11. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have had made a habit of picking off elite opponents at home, but they’ll need to shore up their defense and get help for Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas to finish in the top half of the league in Danny Manning’s first year.
12. Georgia Tech: Point guard play is still an issue, but DeMarco Cox and Charles Mitchell are both eligible up front while Marcus Georges-Hunt is underrated on the wing.
13. Clemson: The Tigers were a top 20 defensive team last season, and while they return a number of veterans, they lose K.J. McDaniels, their best defender and leading scorer.
14. Virginia Tech: The future looks bright in Blacksburg with Buzz Williams coming to town, but it’s going to take some time for him to get enough talent into the program to compete near the top of the ACC.
15. Boston College: The Eagles bring back Olivier Hanlan, but they lose Ryan Anderson, among others, and look destined for the ACC cellar.