Sunday afternoon’s game between Harvard and No. 6 Virginia was set to be a defensive-battle. After one half of play, it was clear that was one-sided, as the Cavaliers led the Crimson 39-8 at half.
Virginia went on to win 76-27.
Harvard was 1-of-20 from the field as a team, compared to Mike Tobey, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, outscoring the Crimson with 15 points — scoring nine points before the first media timeout. The one made field goal — courtesy of Zena Edosomwan at 16:31 — ties an NCAA record with Northern Illinois for fewest field goals in a half.
While Harvard’s first half woes tie the record for fewest field goals, Northern Illinois still holds the title for fewest points and lowest shooting percentage. The Huskies were 1-of-31 (3 percent) for four first-half points against Eastern Michigan in what turned out to be 42-25 win back on Jan. 26, 2013.
Saturday afternoon was actually the second time this season the Cavaliers limited a team to just eight first half points. Virginia held Rutgers to a single-digit second half in a 45-26 win to claim the Barclays Classic title in Brooklyn less than a month ago.
This weekend has shown the result of defensive prowess mixed with offensive futility. On Saturday, top-ranked Kentucky jumped to a 24-0 lead over UCLA, forcing the Bruins to miss their first 17 shots and opening up a 41-7 halftime lead.
That Northern Illinois team from 2013 went on to finish 5-25. UCLA and Harvard were both ranked to begin the season, and are expected to be back in the NCAA tournament field this March.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 6 Virginia.
Last Season: 30-7, 16-2 ACC (1st), lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16
Key Losses: Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell
Newcomers: Devon Hall, B.J. Stith, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok, Jack Salt
– G: London Perrantes, So.
– G: Malcolm Brogdon, Jr.
– F: Justin Anderson, Jr.
– F: Anthony Gill, Jr.
– C: Mike Tobey, Jr.
– Bench: Evan Nolte, Jr.; Darion Atkins, Sr.; B.J. Stith, Fr.; Marial Shayok, Fr.; Isaiah Wilkins, Fr.; Jack Salt, Fr.; Devon Hall, Fr.
They’ll be good because … : There is one thing that we can always be sure of when it comes to a Tony Bennett-coached team: they are going to play tough, pack-line defense that forces you into tough shots and keeps you from getting to the offensive glass. That will not change this season despite the fact that the Cavs will graduate Joe Harris and the ever-underrated Akil Mitchell.
The Cavs do bring back every other member of their rotation while adding a solid recruiting class into the mix. Malcolm Brogdon may be the nation’s least-appreciated player. He’s a 6-foot-5 playmaker that should embrace being this team’s leader. London Perrantes grabbed hold of the starting point guard job early on last season and spent the season burying open jumpers and running offense without turning the ball over. Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey are big bodies with quite a bit of potential, and Justin Anderson is one of the ACC’s best athletes and the kind of player that will be among the league leaders in floor burns.
But they might disappoint because … : There are two major concerns I have with this team, and both of them involve the players that they will be losing. Joe Harris did not have a great senior season, statistically speaking, but what he provided the ‘Hoos was a knockdown perimeter shooter and a go-to guy. Harris wasn’t a great one-on-one player, but he was terrific running off of screens; Bennett could call his number and know he was getting a good shot out of it. Who plays that role for Virginia this season?
As for Akil Mitchell, he versatility defensively is going to be missed. Tobey is probably a better low-post scorer than Mitchell (particularly with the way he played as a senior) and Gill is probably better getting to the offensive glass. But neither of them has the lateral quickness of Mitchell. In other words, Mitchell could not only hedge and recover on ball-screens, but he could switch out and guard a wing if needed. Tobey and Gill don’t have that kind of athleticism.
Outlook: Virginia’s basketball program is as good as it has been since Ralph Sampson was roaming the paint three decades ago. They are coming off a dual-ACC title this past season, and they not only returned all but two of their rotation players from a year ago but only one player currently on their roster is a senior. Virginia will not only be good this season, the program’s future looks just as bright.
As far as this season is concerned, it’s going to be difficult for Virginia to repeat as dual-ACC champs even if their team, as a whole, is better than the one they put on the floor a year ago. That’s because the conference is loaded at the top this year. Duke, North Carolina and Louisville are all top ten teams, and that’s to say nothing of programs like Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pitt, Miami and N.C. State. The Cavs could very well finish in fourth place in the ACC’s regular season and I’d still call them a legitimate Final Four contender.
The month of February is all about separation. For the best teams it’s about making a final push for a conference title, with an eye towards improving their seeding for the NCAA tournament as well. And for other teams, separation refers to the need to rack up quality wins in order to simply earn a spot in the 68-team field. That was the case for the Clemson Tigers entering their game against No. 17 Virginia on Saturday, with a win bolstering a resume that currently features a win over No. 8 Duke.
But the Tigers failed to take advantage of the opportunity, falling 63-58 with the combination of Virginia’s stout pack line defense and Clemson’s relative lack of offensive options being the cause. With Virginia shooting just 34.6% from the field in the second half Clemson had an opportunity to grab a needed quality win but they weren’t much better themselves, shooting 35.0%.
And outside of K.J. McDaniels, who scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, no Tiger managed to score more than six points in the game’s final 20 minutes. That won’t get it done against a team like Virginia, which finished the game with four players scoring in double figures. Two of those four were forwards Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, who scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Saturday’s performance represented a needed step forward for both Gill and Tobey, with the former looking to rebound from a one-point night against Maryland on Monday. As for Tobey, he’d accounted for a total of six points in Virginia’s last three games. If Gill and Tobey can consistently contribute alongside Mitchell, who grabbed five of Virginia’s 13 offensive rebounds on Saturday, Virginia becomes a tougher team to defend with Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon both being capable scorers on the perimeter.
At 12-1 in ACC play Virginia is clearly the biggest threat to Syracuse in the Orange’s quest to win the ACC in its inaugural season. As for Clemson, while this was a game they needed there will be other opportunities between now and the ACC tournament. But in order to take advantage of those chances, Clemson’s going to need more from players not named K.J. McDaniels on the offensive end of the floor.