A pair of familiar faces in the Wisconsin coaching tree lead a pair of undefeated squads into battle on the hardcourt when the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers and No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers meet up in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament final on Friday.
After Wisconsin (5–0) overran Oklahoma on Thursday, Virginia (5–0) defeated Dayton 66–59 on Thursday to set the finals matchup. Tony Bennett’s squad averages 77.2 points per contest and shoots 50.7 percent from the field. Guard De’Andre Hunter (16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game) is putting together a solid start to his redshirt sophomore campaign, while junior guards Ty Jerome (14.6 points and 4.4 assists per game) and Kyle Guy (12.8 points per game) are also Cavaliers to watch on Friday.
To help us break down Virginia further, Caroline Darney from Streaking the Lawn answered some of our questions.
Virginia. Wisconsin. This is the matchup the people (outside of Wisconsin and Virginia) NEED, not necessarily what they WANT. Last year did not end how UVA wanted, but how has this team looked so far through five games?
YES, INJECT THIS MATCHUP INTO MY VEINS. I say that half seriously, as the 2013–14 ACC/Big Ten matchup that went to the Badgers 48–38 was literally one of the worst games I’ve ever watched. I do, however, love this all-Bennett-Ball game because I genuinely love these rock fights. So far, I’ve been impressed with the offense for Virginia, but concerned on some of the little things like rebounding and turnovers. De’Andre Hunter has been a vision ... and doing it so quietly. He was a couple rebounds and an assist away from a triple-double the other night against MTSU, and had a cool 23 points against Dayton.
At this point in the early season, I’m happy these games are exposing areas to work on. That’s what these are for, right? There are usually guys in the right place for rebounds, but not grabbing them strong. MTSU played an extended zone and long limbs interfered with a lot of passes ... which is great practice for facing the likes of Syracuse later. I want to see improved interior defense, especially after Dayton was able to easily cut through and score at the rim.
It’s tough to say how much of my critical views of some aspects of the games so far is due to actual concerns with the team, or residual, crippling fear from the way the last season ended. They’re 5–0, outscoring teams 77–50, and have some fun players to watch. I’ll take it.
Three Cavaliers—De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy—all average double-figures in scoring through a handful of games. What do they bring to the table in terms of skill sets that Wisconsin will have to defend?
I could talk about these three all day. This trio is so dynamic and unlike anything I can remember when it comes to a Virginia offense in recent years. Hunter, as mentioned above, has been incredible. He’s averaging 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, and shooting 63 percent from the field and 58 percent from three. What do you even do with that? Hunter can play almost anywhere on the court, and flourishes at the four. Braxton Key, a transfer from Alabama, has been a great addition and having Key at the three has allowed coach Bennett to play Hunter at the four with more ease. He’s a matchup nightmare, but is a stellar defender.
Kyle Guy is the name most people know. He can take it into the lane and finish through contact or with a floater, but where he’s best on offense is coming off a screen. He’s one of the best in the country in utilizing screens, and Jack Salt is one of the best screen-setters in the country. Fun when that works out. Guy is more of a volume shooter, averaging 12.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 45 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three so far this season. The Badgers have to stick with him off of screens to try and mitigate his ability to get a quick shot off.
Ty Jerome may actually be my favorite dude on this team. There’s just something about the way he plays. He’s a perfect Bennett point guard as he doesn’t get sped up, and he’s the natural leader of this squad. At this point, he’s got 22 assists to just eight turnovers, and he’s shooting 55 percent from the field and 54 percent from three while averaging 14.6 points per game. He doesn’t try to do too much, but will turn it on if needed. This season, he’s been more aggressive in the lane, so defensively you have to keep him outside and don’t leave him too much space.
Who’s the x-factor for this Virginia team, if there is one?
Is it too much of a cop-out to say it depends on the day? Key is huge for the Hoos as he allows more diversity on the offense—he can also play the three or four—and is quickly learning the defense. He is still making some mistakes in the Pack Line, which is to be expected this early in the season for a newcomer, but he’s chipping in seven points and 6.4 rebounds per game and has no quit in him.
The other player that is huge (and will be in this game) is Mamadi Diakite. He’s more offensively gifted than the big man Jack Salt, but he’s foul-prone (or prone to getting calls ... some in Atlantis have been questionable). Right now he’s committing just shy of seven fouls per 40 minutes per KenPom, and that’s tough. He’s long and can block a ball with the best of them, but he also keeps the defense honest by being able to step back and hit a three (he’s 2-for-5 on the season).
Where could Wisconsin find success against Tony Bennett’s squad, and where do you think they’ll excel on Friday afternoon?
The post and the post. Can Jack Salt slow down Ethan Happ’s fancy footwork? Can the Hoos stay out of foul trouble down low? Beyond that, this Wisconsin team is practically built to be a real pain in the ass for Virginia. Happ is an incredible player, and he can make you pay with a gorgeous pass out if your double-team isn’t perfect. If you don’t double him, he can take you one-on-one. Oh and those guys that he’s passing it out to? D’Mitrik Trice went 7-for-8 from three against Oklahoma. Great. This could be a day where you say “OK, Jack. Do what you can ... but we’ll let Happ get his.” When you look back at last year’s matchup (accepting that everyone has gotten better), Happ had 14, Trice had 10, and Brad Davison (who I haven’t even mentioned but is a huge X-factor here, in my opinion) had five. Trice went 0-for-5 from three, which I don’t see happening again. Salt played 30 minutes to Happ’s 31, so that to me is the biggest matchup.
Who takes home the Battle 4 Atlantis title and why? (And also, why isn’t the title a trident?)
Wait, I thought the winner got to keep Atlantis? This is going to be a game where normally I’d say first to 40 wins it ... but both of these teams have better offenses than usual. So, let’s say first to 50 wins. I think Happ will score 20, but Virginia will win in a close one? Like, 52–47. Let’s go with that.