Short Turnaround Adds to Difficulty of Preparing For UVA
If there's anyone in the ACC against whom opposing basketball coaches could use a little extra time to help prepare their team to play, it's Virginia.
That's a luxury NC State's Kevin Keatts doesn't have.
Thanks to the ACC's dreaded Saturday-Monday schedule, Keatts and his Wolfpack were afforded only 48 short hours after their win against Clemson at PNC Arena to refocus and get ready to face the Cavaliers' confounding pack-line defense in Charlottesville tonight.
It's a task that already had the State coach on edge when asked about it at his postgame press conference following the Wolfpack's 60-54 win against the Tigers.
"You would want to ask me that now?," Keatts said. "It's crazy. All I can say is that we have a short, short, short turnaround. And they're good. They do a good job defensively. They've always been one of the best defensive teams in the country for a long time.
"We've got to try to take one day to figure out with this short turnaround how to score against those guys because they make scoring tough for you."
Coach Tony Bennett's Cavaliers currently lead the nation in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, limiting their opponents this season to just 49.5 points per game and 35.6 percent shooting.
But then, neither is a surprise.
UVa has been college basketball's best defensive team in five of the past six seasons—finishing second to Wichita State in 2015-16—while ranking in the top five in shooting percentage defense each of those years.
Monday's matchup at John Paul Jones Arena will be a classic clash of contrasts, considering that the Wolfpack is currently No. 2 in the ACC in scoring average at 77.4 points per game and has been held under 50 points only once in the 87 games Keatts has been its coach.
Complicating matters is the fact that State could potentially be even more shorthanded than usual after both freshman big man Manny Bates and graduate forward Pat Andree left Saturday's game with injuries.
Regardless of who's available, it's going to take a strong effort and strict attention to the gameplan for the Wolfpack to win for the first time ever (in its ninth trip) on UVa's current home court.
If there's one thing State has going in its favor, it's that it has had some recent success against the Cavaliers—taking them to overtime last season before falling to the eventual national champions. The Wolfpack have also played at least twice already this season against teams that employ a variation of the pack-line defense.
"I told them before the (Clemson) game that we are going to have to win a lot of different types of games," Keatts said Saturday. "I told them that we played a lot of non-conference games that would prepare us for this game."
The pack-line is similar to a traditional man-to-man, only instead of having defenders follow their men wherever they go on the court and denying them the pass, everyone except the player guarding the ball packs in behind an imaginary line 16 feet from the basket.
This cuts off driving lines and entry passes into the post while baiting opposing players left open on the perimeter to take more lower percentage shots from longer range.
State did a good job of staying disciplined and playing its game in wins against Appalachian State and Notre Dame. But against Virginia Tech two weekends ago, showed less patience in hoisting up 30 3-point attempts—making only six—in its lowest-scoring game of the year—a 70-58 loss.
"Hopefully when you think about Notre Dame a little bit, same thing with Clemson and Appy State, you get a chance to have played against somebody who plays a very similar defense," Keatts said. "But nobody's defense is as tough as Virginia, especially at Virginia."