NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four.
The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty.
Up first, we have Virginia.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THEIR DEFENSE
Every one knows about Virginia’s defense. They run the Pack-Line, they run it better than anyone else in the country and they’ve been a mainstay in the top five of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings over the course of the last six seasons. I asked coaches how they go about beating what has been the best defense in the sport over the course of the last half-decade.
“Everything starts with their defense, because their style of play makes it very difficult for a team that’s used to playing fast if that team can’t play slow as well. It’s hard. Because they force you to play at their pace.”
“The first thing is if you can get a stop and try to get out and score in early, drag situations, kick aheads, single-double pick and rolls. You want to try to score before it’s set. Once you’re in the half court, it really does require a level of toughness offensively to screen them. Run multiple actions on both sides of the floor. Run a pick on single side bump defender because you know he’s going to be in there tagging. Get it to [the helper’s] man.”
“You have to make threes against them. You won’t get a lot at the rim. You won’t get a lot off penetration. You have to create shots with off-ball movement.”
“They usually post-trap. We’ve had more success throwing it in to guys off the block when they are post-trapping. You can only throw it into the post from the high-post. Run some high-low action, it’s harder for them to double that way.”
“Do you have some playmakers in the front court that you can play through? Do you have a great post passer that can handle being double-teamed? Also, if your bigs can shoot, putting shooting in at the five to get Jack Salt in a situation where you know he’s not gong to switch.”
“The other thing is, historically, someone has to have a big game against them. Like Carsen Edwards.”
“Purdue hung with them because they have Carsen. Most teams don’t.”
“Virginia had the blueprint [to stop Purdue] and Carsen went out and individually made some tough plays. If you look at the times people beat them, dudes made plays. Virginia is going to make you make tough, contested shots off the dribble.”
“They can get beat early in a possession in terms of teams being ready to shoot. And shoot with confidence. They’re going to make you catch-and-shoot in the halfcourt. And you have to consistently make shots the whole time. They’ll give you those. It’s what the Pack-Line is designed to do.”
And if worst comes to worst, get every edge you can.
“Stay on the refs. They’re really handsy, bumping, holding, fouling with their lower body, with their hands. They’re not outstanding movers but they teach defense well enough and they have the respect of the refs. People know they’re Virginia.”
THEY RUN TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT OFFENSES
For years, Tony Bennett and Virginia have been known for running the Blocker-Mover offense that Tony’s dad, Dick Bennett, developed. The Blocker-Mover is an offense that features three “movers” continuously running off of screens set by the two “blockers.” This year, however, Virginia has transitioned into running more Ball-Screen Continuity, which is an offense that relies much more on spacing, three-point shooting and is more effective with smaller lineups.
“Early in the season, they were really into the Blocker-Mover stuff, but not as much later in the year. They come and go with that, but when they run it, you can’t chase pin-downs. That opens up curling off of those screens. It opens up the pocket-pass to the big guy. They can make curl jumpshots. They can pass out if you help, and they’ll kill you with the flares. You have to make them see that you’re chasing them and then go over the screen at the last second.”
“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’ve gone to that a lot. They don’t come off the first ball-screen looking to attack or shoot. You can go under it, and you cannot switch it. Switching is doable, but you cannot do it early in the shot block. They will be patient and poised as they find the mismatch. They can get a big on a little, get you into foul trouble that way, but the harder part is when they get you with someone bigger on Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome. They’ll make them chase around screens.”
“Both offenses, they mix up what they do. It will seem simple enough, and then suddenly they’re running an action where your tagger is thinking about the role man while Kyle Guy in the weakside corner is flying off a pindown. As simple as it is, the way in which they do it, the intention they have, they almost run it slowly just to try and pick you apart to see where the help is, or where the switch is. They are really, really good at figuring out what you’re doing and taking advantage of it.”
THEY’RE MORE VERSATILE THAN THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST
One of the reasons Bennett has incorporated more Ball-Screen Continuity into his offense is that he has a more versatile and skilled roster than he has had in the past.
“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’re going to run it hard and put you in multiple actions because of their ability to stretch the floor, especially when Hunter is at the four. When Jay Huff is in there at the five, they’ll four or five guys that can make a three. It creates a different look for them than in the past, when they had big guys like Anthony Gill. I would guess that’s some of the reason why they’re running more Ball-Screen Continuity, so they can spread it a little more on the perimeter.”
“I think Kihei Clark coming in and moving Guy and Jerome off the ball gives them a real threat, playmaking at three positions. They’re more skilled.”
“You can play some zone, a 1-3-1, because you don’t have to guard Kihei. When he drives, he’s driving to pass. If he’s going to beat you, you have to live with it.”
“Ty is so good in ball screens it opens up opportunities for him to play pick-and-roll and not just run Blocker-Mover.”
KYLE GUY IS THE PLAYER TO KEY ON
“De’Andre Hunter is their best player, but we were most worried about Guy because he has game-changing ability. As good as Hunter is, he’s not a hungry scorer. We knew where we would have to guard him — those elbow iso’s 3-4 times a game — and he can shoot it, but we were more concerned with Guy as a cutter. He is relentless and always cutting hard. He is going to get 10 threes off and he can make six or seven, easy. That, more than anything, is the game-changing part.”
“It was Guy for us. Jerome, too. He’s the most versatile of their threats in terms of being able to make a three, floaters and runners. They play off the deep shooting of Guy and Jerome, and as good of a coach as Tony is, those two kids they take and make really difficult, long threes that are hard to defend.”
THE BEST MATCHUP IS? AND THE WORST MATCHUP IS?
“Auburn is the best and worst. The thing about them, as many threes as they shoot, if they don’t shoot the ball well, they’re going to get drilled by UVA. Virginia is going to take care of the ball, they’re not going to open the game up and play frenetic. You’ll miss shots and get grinded.”
“But if they get hot, they’ll shoot 40 threes if they want. UVA will allow them those shots. If you can consistently hurt them fro the outside, you can hang in the game. The way that Auburn plays, they’re tricky and wild, which can win or lose them the game.”