To whom it may concern: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team, already stumbling drunkenly through ACC play with a 1-5 conference record, now has to play two games in three days against two of the top three teams IN THE COUNTRY.
Monday will feature the #2 Duke Blue Devils, their bevy of ridiculous freshmen led by Zion Williamson, and a halftime show starring the one and only Red Panda. But we can’t get caught looking ahead just yet, despite how exciting that will be.
Tomorrow, it turns out, brings an equally terrifying opponent to Purcell Pavilion, as the #3 Virginia Cavaliers, 17-1 on the season, bring their suffocating defense and deadly-efficient offense to South Bend.
To prepare ourselves for what to expect in this one, I spoke to Caroline Darney over at Streaking the Lawn, and she was able to shed some great insight into Virginia’s ceiling this year, why their defense is so good, how talented of a performer Tony Bennett is, Ty Jerome’s two first names, and much more.
Let’s check out everything she had to say and arm ourselves with knowledge ahead of what will very likely be the Irish’s worst loss of the season to-date (I’m preparing for the worst, you guys — you should too).
1. Virginia is off to a fantastic start, with its lone loss being the 2-point nail-biter AT Duke last weekend. What do you think the ceiling is for this UVA team and how do you predict the season will end — is this the year Tony Bennett finally makes the Final Four?
Caroline Darney: [Takes deep breath] The ceiling for this Virginia team is a national championship.
Saying that out loud is terrifying, but this team is efficient on both ends of the court and has the star power to make things happen. Against VT, you could see their abilities beyond the arc (10-for-14 from three in the first half). When the threes weren’t falling at Duke, the Hoos didn’t just stick with a barrage from outside (which may have happened in previous seasons). Instead, they worked to get favorable one-on-one match-ups to shoot 78% from two and score 42 points in the paint.
You often hear that Virginia “can’t score enough” and “doesn’t have a guy to go to for a bucket when needed”. That’s certainly not the case this season as the Hoos are averaging just shy of 74 points per game while still playing the slowest pace in the country, per KenPom.
I’m too scared to say if this is *the* year because the NCAA tournament is beautifully brutal, but they have all the pieces to break through for Tony Bennett.
2. What makes the Virginia defense so devastatingly effective? How can a team hope to beat it?
Caroline Darney: They play as a team, and will make everything you do horrifically difficult. Bennett has introduced a 3/4 court press to the mix this year, making things even harder for opponents to even get set up in the half court before attempting to break through the Pack Line.
Get past the press, and you’ve got hard high hedges and ferocious on-ball defense to contend with. Driving the lane is difficult, so you better hope you can make some threes over the top of it.
That’s the key. Two things are particularly dangerous for the Pack Line: a fast driver and hot three point shooting. If you can get quickly into the lane or connect on the shots that Virginia is willing to give up, that’s how you win.
The Hoos lost an “eraser” in Isaiah Wilkins (he was always around to cover up mistakes in the defense), but guys like Jack Salt, De’Andre Hunter, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, and Jay Huff have done well with rim protection at times this season.
3. Offensively, who are the guys ND should be most afraid of, and who do you think will be most deadly against the Irish on Saturday?
Caroline Darney: Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome. That’s the trio. They’re the three leading scorers (in that order), and I think Guy could have himself a day. The Notre Dame defense allows opponents to shoot 33.9% from beyond the arc (157th on KenPom), and Guy comes into the game shooting 47% from deep. He’s had a couple quiet games in a row, so he seems primed to make some shots.
Additionally, the Hoos have to be super cognizant of ND’s ability to block at the rim (I mean oh my gosh, Juwan Durham).* The Blue Devils only blocked one shot last weekend, so hopefully Virginia uses the same finishing at the rim to avoid a block party in South Bend.
*Pat Rick note: Durham is likely still out for tomorrow, as his indefinite ankle injury continues...which only makes what Caroline is saying even more terrifying
As far as the other two...Hunter is just good. He can create off the dribble, pull up from deep, or finish through contact. Jerome is known as a shooter, but he’s stronger and more athletic than he gets credit for.
4. Are there any weaknesses — even just relative ones — in this Virginia team (hell, they’re #4 in offense and #2 in defense in KenPom.com rankings), and does ND stand any chance of exploiting those weaknesses and finding a way to hang around and make this interesting?
Caroline Darney: Here’s what’s tough. Virginia doesn’t get to the free throw line a bunch, but ND this season doesn’t really foul and send folks there. The Hoos are prone to a couple scoring droughts, but haven’t had prolonged ones that are as concerning as in seasons past. As said before, the Pack Line can be susceptible to hot three point shooting, but that’s an area that ND has struggled. Neither team turns it over, and that will be something that’s key for the Irish...you can’t give this UVA team extra opportunities or they will make you pay.
The key to an ND victory is to make it super difficult to get a good look on offense, clean up the boards and limit second chances, don’t turn it over, and shoot well from beyond the arc. Easy peasy!
5. Karaoke battle between Mike Brey and Tony Bennett -- what song(s) does each coach sing, describe each man’s charisma, stage presence, and delivery, and who ultimately wins the contest via applause-o-meter?
Caroline Darney: Oh man, what a question. Ok so I put a fair amount of time into this (I’m a little embarrassed to say).**
**Pat Rick note: there is nothing embarrassing about that.
Let’s start with Mike Brey. He’s such a cool, charismatic dude that I think he picks a crowd-pleaser that gets the audience engaged and allows him to work the room. My gut feeling was to go with “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. I can picture it: Brey shuffles up to the stage, Hawaiian shirt and slightly rumpled (but not sloppy) khakis on. He jokes around with the karaoke operator, that high-wattage smile on his face. As the song starts, he air drums the opening notes and gets a shoulder sway going. Things start slowly, but as the song picks up, so does he. IF YOU LIKE PIÑA COLADAS. I need this to happen now.
Tony Bennett is a more quiet, suave vibe. It’s well known that his favorite band is Boyz II Men, so I’m feeling a little “End of the Road.” Bennett reluctantly walks to the stage, pulling a stool to the center. He’s in an unassuming polo and jeans, but once those first few notes start, he’s in the zone. The performance is much more of an emotional one, with less crowd work than Brey before him. I would believe him having a sneaky good voice, shocking the crowd. By the end, they’re swaying and quietly singing along while flashing their iPhone lights at the stage.
The winner? The crowd.
6. Asking for a friend — is there a Kyle Gal ??? ;) ;) ;)
Caroline Darney: Bad news for all those out there interested...there is a Kyle Gal. Kyle and his longtime girlfriend Alexa got engaged last spring. She’s going to grad school at Notre Dame soon, though!
7. Has having two first names been a big hindrance in Ty Jerome’s life/basketball career, and if so, how has he overcome that?
Caroline Darney: I‘m sure it has been a struggle, but he’s managed to persevere through hard work and dedication to not letting the two-first-name haters get him down. Now that I think about it, that’s probably where he gets most of his swag when he plays.
8. Prediction time: who wins, what’s the score, and what is your reasoning?
Caroline Darney: ACC road games will forever make me nervous, and Notre Dame has been in all but one of its conference games.
That said, I think this team has too much offensive firepower and their strengths align pretty well with ND’s weaknesses. Virginia’s defense is going to make things tough for an ND team that has had some issues shooting, and I like how the Hoos match up in this one with size and athleticism.
I’ll say...Virginia 67-52.
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Caroline for her answers — not only did she provide fantastic basketball analysis and great statistics for us to chew on, but she also committed the time to devise and unleash one of the best answers to my karaoke question that I’ve ever seen, hands down.
Please, please, please do yourselves a favor and follow Caroline and Streaking the Lawn on Twitter for any and all hard-hitting Virginia updates, and I implore you once again to also head over to Streaking the Lawn to check out their coverage leading up to this game — including my own Q&A on their site.