Tale of Two Cities X: So, How We Doin’ - Virginia
Writing this one while that crushing football loss to Michigan remains painfully fresh. We were all thisclose to having tomorrow's hoops game be the potential linchpin of the most epic Illini sports weekend ever.
Alas, the fourth quarter in Ann Arbor was especially cruel, but basketball lives on here in the Nevada desert as the Illini will take on #16 Virginia in the championship game of the Continental Main Event.
Virginia rode a hot shooting second half from former Illini foes Arman Franklin (Indiana) and Ben Vander Plas (Ohio) and hung on late to upset 5th ranked Baylor on Friday night. The Wahoos create many problems - not the least of which will be the competing shades of orange in the arena.
They are a uniquely veteran squad - with a starting lineup of all upperclassmen and a regular rotation that only includes one freshman. Even though Virginia was an NIT team last season, they returned their entire starting lineup this year so they possess that increasingly rare college basketball intangible of continuity. Simply put, teams that stay together tend to get better together. Kind of like us in 2019-2020 after we set a school record for losses in the previous season. Virginia's continuity percentage of 67% from last season ranks among the top 5% in college basketball, so yeah, this team has been through some stuff together.
Of course they defend - it's what Tony Bennett teams do, but at least so far this season, they are also scoring the ball at a very un-Virginia like clip. In fact, their offensive efficiency rating through four games is actually higher than their defense. I'm sitting here wondering if that's ever happened at Virginia under Bennett. They are still playing at a glacially slow pace so it appears their scoring efficiency is based on one main factor - they are shooting 52% from the three point line. Obviously, that's not likely to sustain, so let's hope their regression to the mean from the arc starts tomorrow.
Of course, from our side, Terrence Shannon, Jr. is not likely to bomb in another 8 threes either, but I also doubt we will turn the ball over at a 27% rate again today, and I think we'll fare better on the offensive glass as well. UCLA had 21 more shot attempts on Friday, which we were able to offset by shooting the ball so well, but the shots won't come as easy against Virginia as they did against UCLA so if we lose the shot volume game again by that much we'll probably lose the game as well.
Our crowd will be a major factor once again - although I should note that Virginia represented fairly well on Friday so the discrepancy in fan support won't likely be quite as shocking as it was against UCLA. It will still sound like a home crowd for us tomorrow.
As for the game, I see both teams coming back to earth shooting the ball, but I also believe we'll be able to offset that by creating more second chance opportunities than we did on Friday. I also have a feeling we get a bounce back offensive performance from Coleman Hawkins to help carry us home.
We're in Vegas so I'm riding us on the money line...
ILLINOIS 70 VIRGINIA 66