Virginia will face North Carolina State on Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament after the Wolfpack defeated Boston College, 78-57, on Thursday. The Cavaliers played N.C. State once in the regular season, and that contest ended with a 61-60 Cavaliers win Jan. 28 in Raleigh.
When asked after Thursday’s game how much confidence the Wolfpack would take into its matchup against Virginia, N.C. State forward Richard Howell said: “Huge confidence. I feel like we owe them a little get-back just because of that game. So we’re going to come out tomorrow and play hard . . . ”
Howell tallied 11 points and 18 rebounds against the Cavaliers the last time around, and he was one of the N.C. State big men who disarmed Virginia’s defensive post trap with surprising ease. The Cavaliers implement the post trap frequently against opposing forwards, and N.C. State had about as much success as any other team Virginia has played this season.
Finding a way to more effectively execute its post trap will be key for the Cavaliers on Friday. Other crucial factors include a strong effort on the boards and containing N.C. State sharpshooter Scott Wood.
In regards to the post trap, sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said Wednesday that N.C. State’s big men came up with “crafty” ways to pass the ball out of it. In the post trap, Virginia sends a second player to double-team an opposing big man as soon as he catches the ball on the block. The Cavaliers, Mitchell said, are taught to charge toward the targeted big man with their hands held high and to keep them there. The goal is to obstruct the opposing player’s vision.
But Mitchell said N.C. State’s big men – particularly C.J. Leslie and DeShawn Painter – scooped the ball low and passed to the continuous wave of Wolfpack guards that were cutting to the basket.
“We didn’t know it was coming,” Howell said of the post trap. “When it first happened, we were surprised. We talked about it in the first timeout, and we solved the problem. Coach [Mark Gottfried] told us when we get the ball, just to look. We usually get it and try to make quick moves. If that’s there, then do it. But he usually wants us to face up and let the trap come to us and kick it to the open man.”
Often, Wood is the player N.C. State is looking to kick the ball out to along the perimeter. A 6-foot-6 junior forward, Wood was the ACC’s most accurate three-point shooter (41.5 percent) this season. But Virginia held Wood to 2-of-8 shooting from three-point range during their last encounter.
“I think a lot of it was just me not making shots,” Wood said Thursday after making 5 of 9 three-pointers against Boston College. Virginia “did a good job of forcing me to put the ball on the floor and making me go off a different set of screens. But at the same time, I’ve just got to come in there and make shots. I’m gonna get some good looks. My teammates are going to set me good screens. I’ve just got to get myself open, cut hard and knock ’em in.”
When the shots down go in Friday, Virginia would be well served to make a stronger rebounding effort than it did in late January. N.C. State out-rebounded the Cavaliers, 42-25, in Raleigh and turned an 18-5 edge on the offensive glass into a 17-7 advantage in second chance points. Mitchell and reserve forward Darion Atkins combined to grab two rebounds that night.
N.C. State forward C.J. Williams said Thursday the Wolfpack will try to run the floor as much as possible against Virginia’s injury-depleted lineup. N.C. State understands Virginia will try to use its defensive system to slow down the pace of the game, but Williams said the Wolfpack would respond by trying to use its own defense to speed the tempo back up.
“We were getting after them defensively and forcing them to turn the ball over a couple times,” Williams said of the Jan. 28 game against Virginia. “They shot the ball really well, but when they weren’t shooting it, they were turning it over. We got up into them, and that gets our fast break going.”
It should be noted that N.C. State employs a seven-man rotation, just like Virginia. The critical difference is that the Wolfpack does it by choice, whereas the Cavaliers have done it out of necessity for the past few weeks. Williams anticipates that Friday’s rematch will be closely contested throughout the game, and if so, it will be interesting to see whether fatigue plays a factor in the final outcome.
“With such a great defensive team, they’re going to be in the game the entire time,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to make sure we get after it defensively to go tit for tat with them.”