CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — London Perrantes didn’t have the built in excuse on Saturday afternoon.
11 days ago, when Virginia came from behind to beat West Virginia in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Virginia’s star point guard was a week and a half removed from undergoing an appendectomy. It was easy to forgive him for starting slow when he had missed a pair of games and a week’s worth of practice and conditioning. After all, his stomach had been cut open. It might take 20 minutes to get used to playing against the relentless pressure coming from the Mountaineers.
But on Saturday?
When No. 12 Villanova came to Charlottesville?
Perrantes didn’t have an excuse for his slow start. He was 1-for-4 from the floor in the first half, finishing with four points and three turnovers at the break, making the kind of sloppy plays we’ve become accustomed to seeing from time to time from just about every point guard other than Perrantes. A three-year starter at the point, Perrantes had 101 turnovers in his career entering Saturday. He usually doesn’t make careless mistakes, which is why it was so surprising to again see him struggle against quality competition.
“Early, he was a little frustrated with some of his turnovers,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “I could see it in his eyes.”
The second half, however, was a totally different story. Perrantes scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, playing an integral role in the game-changing, 14-0 run that led to Virginia scoring 45 of their 86 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. The Cavs would go on to win, 86-75, their second consecutive win over a ranked program.
It also happened to be the second consecutive game that Perrantes took over in the second half. He hit arguably the three most important shots of the game on Saturday — three momentum-changing threes, but we’ll get to that in a minute — the same way he hit three critical second half threes, scoring all 13 of his points in the final 20 minutes in the win over the Mountaineers.
“He usually hits one or two of those daggers a game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said with a shake of his head. “He hit a bunch today.”
Those daggers are a huge part of the reason that Virginia is sitting at 10-1 on the season right now.
They are also the reason that the Cavs are not undefeated, which is what makes Perrantes to move valuable and irreplaceable player on this Virginia roster.
A little more than a month ago, four days after the season began and four hours before the 24-Hour College Basketball Marathon was set to kick off, Virginia trekked up Route 29, from Charlottesville to Washington D.C., to lock horns with George Washington in one of the earlier and toughest true road games you’ll ever see a preseason top ten team play.
The Cavs lost that game, and the blame ended up squarely on Virginia’s defense. They lost Darion Atkins and they lost Justin Anderson, and while Bennett’s Pack-Line defense will churn out a top 25 efficiency rating regardless of who is on the roster, losing two of the nation’s best individual defenders was a blow that was going to take some time to adjust to.
Case in point: Last season, Virginia was fourth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. This year they’re 126th.
[RELATED: What’s wrong with Virginia defensively this season?]
What wasn’t mentioned in the aftermath of that loss is that Virginia simply did not find a way to execute offensively down the stretch, and Perrantes has to shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. He committed two of his three turnovers in the final six minutes. He badly missed a wide-open three with 1:20 left on the clock that would have cut GW’s lead to one point. He finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting on a night that the ‘Hoos were just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc.
It was the kind of performance that necessitated a change in the way that we view this Virginia team. But now that we’re more than a month into the season, it appears that, instead of being an indictment on their ability to compete for an ACC title or reach a Final Four, it was more a sign of how we should expect the ‘Hoos to play this season. Namely, this isn’t going to be a team that will physically grind down opponents. They can’t rely solely on their defense to win games for them in the low-50s. They need to be able to score in bunches, and that’s exactly what they have down the last two times they’ve taken the court.
On Saturday, it was a 45-point outburst in the final 12 minutes of the game, including a ten minute stretch where Virginia hit seven threes.
“That’s what good teams do,” Wright said.
“They made us pay [defensively] when we didn’t block out or when we lost vision. They got some easy buckets,” Bennett said. “But our offense made up for that.”
Believe it or not, Virginia is the most potent offensive team in college basketball as of today. They rank No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, and while their overall scoring output is capped by a methodical pace of play, there’s no questioning how lethal they are on a possession-by-possession basis.
Malcolm Brogdon is every bit the part of an all-american guard. On Saturday, he finished with 20 points, seven boards and six assists with just one turnover. By the end of the game, Villanova had no answer for how to contain him off the dribble, and it was Brogdon that set up two of Perrantes’ three late-game threes. And as good as the combination of Brogdon and Perrantes were, Anthony Gill was actually UVA’s leading scorer, finishing with 22 points and seven boards as he consistently overpowered Villanova’s smaller front line. They crash the offensive glass, they knock down threes, they don’t take bad shots.
They are always going to be good on that end of the floor.
But what makes them this good is Perrantes.
He’s never been known as a threat on the offensive end of the floor. A spot-up shooter? Sure. A facilitator that could get UVA into their sets? Absolutely. In his first two seasons in Charlottesville, he’s been the embodiment of the ‘pure point guard’ stereotype. This season, however, he’s averaging 11.5 points and shooting 56.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s making critical drives to the rim and knocking down jump shots in big moments. He’s a tertiary scorer, a guy that can create a shot for himself outside of the confines of Virginia’s offense, and that’s not something he’s shown the ability — or the willingness? — to do in the past.
And it matters because Virginia is going to have moments were they are going to be forced to rely on their offensive firepower to win games for them.
“How were playing defense right now is not working,” Darius Thompson said. “Our physicality [with the new rules], we kind of have to out score teams.”