During the media timeout with four minutes left in the first half of the Florida State/Virginia game, if Leonard Hamilton had asked his team “We have two options, you can finish this game against Virginia or you guys can have root canals – what do you want to do?” I think the answer would have been “How much time do we have to decide?” or “Will they use novacaine?” You could see it in their play at the end of the first half. FSU was done. Absent a Beyonce concert, John Paul Jones Arena was the last place FSU wanted to be.
This is what Virginia fans look for every game from their opponents: Capitulation. The point in the game when you can see the opposing team has had enough and is saying “no mas.” The striking thing about the FSU game is that the point of capitulation came with five minutes to go in the first half…and Florida State was the No. 9 team in the country.
As usual, Virginia’s defense is the foundation for capitulation. Usually, some time in the second half the opposing team is just worn out. They have had enough of the Virginia pestilence. The defensive intensity in the middle of the second half is as intense as it was at tipoff and opponents realize that the defensive pressure is going to remain at full throttle until the buzzer sounds…or until the point of capitulation
What makes this team a little different from recent Virginia squads is that the pressure Virginia can apply to its opponents is more balanced. The offense, while always maddening in its pace, has a diversity and an efficiency that Virginia has not seen since 2014-15, when Virginia had Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey. This year’s Virginia team however, may have more offensive firepower than any previous team in the Tony Bennett era. This year, certainly unlike last year, Virginia has enough offensive firepower and offensive diversity to apply pressure at both ends of the floor. This has to make life for Virginia’s opponents miserable. It did for FSU and you could see it on the floor.
When Virginia demolished Florida State into a first half capitulation, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome were a combined 4-19 from the floor. Not to worry, Kyle Guy and Braxton Key scored 21 and 20 respectively to lead the blowout of a Top 10 program. On the road against Boston college, Mamadi Diakite who is developing a lethal inside game, led the charge with 18 points along with Hunter. Guy and Ty Jerome also scored in double figures while Key added a solid nine points off the bench. Defensive scheme’s against Virginia this year are becoming an exercise in “picking you poison” – do you want to get throttled inside by Diakite, Hunter, and Key while focusing on Jerome and Guy or do you want to clog the paint and let Virginia’s sharpshooters pick you apart?
This is a different look for Virginia. It might be what breaks the March jinx Virginia has experienced in the NCAA tournament. The biggest concern heading into March is the depth of the rotation. Duke, UNC, and others have deeper rosters than Virginia this year as Tony Bennett focuses primarily on a seven-man rotation occasionally popping up to eight. The biggest question for Virginia basketball is the sustainability of this strategy. Will there be enough gas left in the tank to make a Final Four run in March?
Part of the answer may come in the timing of capitulation during the regular season. Clearly Virginia will have games when they battle to the end and they will likely have games where they come up short. However, first half capitulations like we saw against Florida State might be the best way to have fresh legs when the season really starts…in the NCAA tourney.