When Tony Bennett went cross-country from Washington State to Virginia this summer, he was really known for two things: slowing down the offense and, by doing so, improving its efficiency. Those two things have certainly happened, but Bennett has brought more to the table - intensity and coaching acumen, to be specific - and now Virginia is a surprise team and an NCAA tournament contender.
I already reviewed the ramifications of looking past a good UVA team, so I'll let that speak for itself, but just to reinforce the idea: if Maryland jumps ahead to a huge Duke game, the Cavs are good enough to make them pay for it.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, I'll note that the two things Bennett was really known for - a slow pace and a good offense - have made the trip to Charlottesville with him. The Cavs have the slowest tempo in the ACC and one of the slowest in the country, which contrasts heavily with Maryland's run and gun style. UVA has reached 80 points just 3 times this season; Maryland's done it on 13 occasions.
The effects of tempo should be forefront in Maryland's mind - when the pace of the UNC game slowed, the Heels crawled back into it. When they got out in transition, they broke the game wide open. Whichever team is able to make the game conform to their style - halfcourt sets for UVA, fast breaks and transition for Maryland - will hold a significant advantage. I wouldn't be surprised if Maryland took an almost Clemson-esque approach to this one, with aggressive man defense and the occasional press.
To the other major strength of Bennett - offensive efficiency - is also present. UVA has a top 50 offense nationally, nearly never turns the ball over (first in the ACC in turnover percentage), and is pretty good shooting the rock - 39% from deep, 75% from the line.
UVA has ridden those two factors to some surprising wins: they beat a good, ranked-at-the-time UAB team, dropped Georgia Tech, beat Miami almost as badly as Maryland did, and topped UNC and N.C. State easily. They aren't setting the world on fire, but they're a legitimate bubble team that can do some damage, and that's a monumental achievement for Bennett given their standing at the beginning of the year.
The Hoos offense
mostly almost entirely runs through Sylven Landesberg (18 ppg), their 6-6 SG from New York - he's the only player in the ACC that takes more of their team's shots than Greivis Vasquez. He's a fantastic player that specializes in taking players off the bounce and scoring in the lane, on the drive, and from the stripe. He can shoot from outside, but doesn't do it a ton (he's only taken 34 shots from deep on the year). Thanks to his speed, size, and handles, defending him is always difficult.- limiting him will be an obvious key. He's entirely capable of torching teams offensively, just like he did against UNC, dropping 29.
But Landesberg, despite seeing significant improvements from an already solid last season, can't do it all on his own. If that was the case, the Hoos would've been a lot closer to the ACC tournament last year. They're contending this year, and a major reason why is an improved supporting cast. If Landesberg is UVA's Vasquez, Mike Scott is the Cavs' Landon Milbourne. The two aren't dissimilar players, although Scott tends to hang around the post more than Milbourne and is more of a pure 4. But the real similarity resides in their roles: Scott, like Milbourne, is the second option to a dominant guard, averaging 13 points a game, and an important factor on the glass, leading the Cavs with 7 a game.
Landesberg has more help on the wings, too, with Mustapha Farrakhan and Sammy Zeglinski taking their games up a notch. Farrakhan (about 7 points a game) has a Cliff Tucker-esque consistency level, but when he's hot he can hurt a team. He provides athleticism and quickness more than anything else, but he's a microwave scorer in many respects, too. Zeglinski (10 points a game) mans the PG spot for UVA, and is the main deep threat - he's taken nearly twice the 3s of anyone else on the team, and shoots 44% doing it. A guy like Jeff Jones - yes, the former Maryland commit - holds a role similar to Farrakhan's as an energy scorer providing quick offense off the bench, and that's something they simply didn't have last year.
For the first time in ACC play, Jordan Williams will actually be the best big man in the game. UVA leans on seven-footer Jerome Meyinesse, but he's raw and more of a decoy than anything else. Despite his great size he only grabs 4 boards a game, and he rarely shoots outside of putbacks and dunks. Assane Sene is a high-potential big man, but he rarely sees more than 12 minutes a game, and has been underwhelming after high expectations. Maryland hasn't had a post advantage in an ACC game in two years, but they have one here.
I'll go more in-depth on gameday, but I'm not feeling too bad about this one at the moment. The Hoos are a good team, but Maryland is hot. The only caveats would be overlooking UVA or the possibility that they control the tempo and slow the game severely. As long as that doesn't happen, a loss would be surprising.