No. 14 men’s basketball humbled, set to host East Carolina
Cavaliers take on Pirates before extended break
Coach Bob Huggins’ veteran then-No. 25 West Virginia team out-toughed the then-No. 6 Virginia men’s basketball team (7-1) Saturday in a rare loss, 66-57, at John Paul Jones Arena. The now-No. 14 Cavaliers are ready to respond in their final game before a 10 day break for exams. They host mid-major East Carolina Tuesday evening.
Virginia has fallen out of high favor among college basketball analysts of late. Jeff Goodman’s Power Rankings on ESPN.com now have the Cavaliers listed at No. 19, five spots back from where they were a week ago. Duke, North Carolina and Louisville, all one-loss teams, stand well ahead of them.
Last year’s Virginia team could still score in the mid-60s to low-70s consistently, even if the defensive effort or execution wasn’t quite there. Against the likes of Villanova, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Iowa State, the 2015-16 Cavaliers even put up an average of 81.5 points in those four victories. This year’s Virginia team is in need of another weapon or two.
Senior point guard London Perrantes enters Tuesday’s contest as the only Cavalier averaging double figures, scoring 10 points per game. After his unbelievable second half against Ohio State, Perrantes faced a relentless Mountaineer defense designed to make everything difficult for him.
West Virginia took command of the floor for 37 minutes, and Perrantes recorded just six points on 2-10 shooting. When everyone else became a little cautious with the basketball late, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill weren’t there to be aggressors, not even Austin Nichols was.
“Hopefully, we are a team that if one guy is off, our balance can help and that wasn’t the case,” coach Tony Bennett said. “[Junior guard] Darius [Thompson] was obviously solid as I look at the stat sheet scoring-wise, but the 14 turnovers, they were all pretty costly ones.”
As the team’s second-leading scorer at 9.8 ppg, Thompson has been a primary contributor. He’s shot a red-hot 47.8 percent from behind the arc, and his 18 assists are second only to Perrantes. The concern about Thompson, though, is that his production will decline in conference play.
In his first 11 games of 2015-16, Thompson averaged 10.4 points per game, while over 18 ACC regular-season contests, he averaged just 3.8 points per game and saw his minutes cut. Thompson has started in all eight games this season, and was on the court with Perrantes in crunch time against West Virginia.
Bennett went back and forth then about which players, other than his two top scorers, would make up the rest of the rotation.
“I decided to go with the ball handling, almost three point guard types at times,” Bennett said. “For a second, I thought it was going to be good. It was just a fine line with our personnel. I thought, ‘Well, should we have Jack [Salt] in there.’ You second guess, you think about all of the different rotations.”
Virginia faces an identity crisis. It has self-proclaimed balance on the perimeter, with Perrantes, Thompson, junior guards Devon Hall and Marial Shayok and freshman guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, but it doesn’t have the physical, fearless playmaker who can get a bucket or get to the line when the team needs it most.
Nor do the Cavaliers have a true post who can consistently make a move and score with his back to the basket. West Virginia and Ohio State outscored Virginia in the paint by 12 and 14 points, respectively. Part of the problem is that lack of interior scoring, but these recent deficits also speak to breakdowns in Bennett’s pack-line.
“I would put that more on our defense,” Thompson said. “We pride ourselves on not letting our opponents get in the paint, and the past few games they’ve been getting [there]. So, we have to find a way to get better at that.”
Virginia will have its work cut out against the Pirates (7-2). East Carolina has three guards averaging double figures — four if you round up 7-foot-1 senior center Andre Washington’s 9.8 points per game. Washington is also the team’s rebounding leader at 8.4 per game.
Senior guard Caleb White, at 6-foot-7, is a matchup problem. He averages a team-high 15 points per game, and has drained 51 percent of his three-point attempts. White’s ability to extend the Cavalier defense could create driving lanes for him, 6-foot-3 junior guard B.J. Tyson and 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Kentrell Barkley. Tyson averages 14 points per game and has tallied a team-high 14 steals, while Barkley averages 12.6 points and seven boards.
East Carolina isn’t the caliber of opponent Virginia has faced the past three games, but the Pirates shouldn’t be taken lightly. Their only losses of the season have come on the road at Charlotte and Mercer. East Carolina is riding a three-game win streak with victories over Air Force, Hampton and North Carolina Central.
“With the teams that we are playing, we can’t put ourselves in a hole that is going to be tough to get out of,” Perrantes said. “We just have to find a way to cut down on the errors.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at JPJ.