Saturday’s matchup between No. 3 Virginia and No. 13 Notre Dame set up to be a highly entertaining affair, with the Cavaliers boasting one of the nation’s premier defenses and the Fighting Irish being the most efficient offense in the country. A key figure for Notre Dame is senior guard Jerian Grant, who spends time both on and off the ball and entered the game averaging 17.2 points, 6.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. And while the Fighting Irish have multiple weapons capable of hurting opponents, it’s Grant who serves as their most important player.
Virginia took Grant away, limiting him to just six points (2-for-7 FG) and six assists, with junior guard Malcolm Brogdon getting the assignment for most of the game. And that was a major factor in the Cavaliers leaving South Bend with a 62-56 victory that rates among the best true road victories in college basketball this season.
Virginia made things difficult on Grant, playing him tight when he had the ball and making his work to get touches when Demetrius Jackson initiated the offense far tougher than usual. But what made this matchup so intriguing is the purpose of the pack-line defense, which is to keep teams out of the paint, matching up against Notre Dame’s ability to knock down perimeter shots.
The Fighting Irish hit ten three-pointers, with Pat Connaughton (21 points, eight rebounds, 4-for-9 3PT), Jackson (12 points, six rebounds, 3-for-6 3PT) and V.J. Beachem (12 points, 3-for-6 3PT) responsible for the makes, but they struggled to find any consistency inside of the arc. Notre Dame made just ten of its 35 two-point shots, with the resulting percentage (28.6%) well below the 63.6% clip at which they’re converting those shots (which is tops in the country).
Not only does Virginia make it tough for teams to get close to the basket, but they also do a very good job of challenging those shots once opponents find a way inside of the arc.
Offensively it was all about balance for Virginia, with Darion Atkins (eight rebounds) scoring 14 points, Brogdon (four assists and three rebounds) 13 and Justin Anderson (four rebounds) 11. The Cavaliers shot 49 percent from the field, and after a Martinas Geben layup gave Notre Dame a 40-39 lead with 9:10 remaining Virginia scored on eight of its next 11 possessions.
This is a very efficient offensive team that, like Notre Dame, entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers and that’s how things played out down the stretch.
As a result of this win Virginia has a trio of true road victories that few (if any) teams in America can match right now, as they’ve also won at Maryland (now ranked 11th nationally) and VCU (20th). Last year’s group managed to win 30 games and the program’s first ACC title since 1981. These Cavaliers are capable of not only repeating as ACC champions, but also making a run at their first Final Four appearance since 1984.