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Trying to Explain Virginia’s Historic Collapse

How did the top-ranked Cavaliers become the first no. 1 to fall to a no. 16?

A no. 16 seed finally beat a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The University of MarylandBaltimore County stunned top-seeded Virginia 74-54 in their first-round matchup on Friday. How did Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers let this happen? Mark Titus and Tate Frazier broke it down on the latest episode of One Shining Podcast.

Listen to the full podcast below. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Mark Titus: I wanna start here: A lot of people will point to this game and say this was just further proof that Virginia chokes in the NCAA tournament. They choke every year. We all know that their offense isn’t good enough to ever win in the NCAA tournament. You and I both disagree with that notion because, first of all … you’re telling me this is a harder environment for [the Cavaliers] to play in than the ACC? Because need I remind people, Virginia had one of the greatest ACC teams of all time this year. They were very, very close to going undefeated in the ACC. And the ACC put nine teams in the NCAA tournament.

Tate Frazier: And the only [ACC] game they lost was to Virginia Tech at home, a game that they were completely in control of and Virginia Tech just got hot at the end to get a win.

Titus: So I want to debunk this idea that Virginia is just not built for the NCAA tournament. That’s not why they lost. They didn’t lose to UMBC because they weren’t built for the tournament. They lost because they got their asses absolutely handed to them.

[To] Virginia’s packline defense, 3-pointers are always the kryptonite. For those who don’t know, they put the guy guarding the ball—they have him guard the ball wherever it is pretty much. The other four defenders pack in tight into the paint to prevent driving lanes. That’s their style of defense. Now, in packing in and preventing the driving lanes, you’ve collapsed. You’re susceptible to long closeouts.

Frazier: And you play the percentages.

Titus: You play the percentages. You’re like, there’s no way [the other team] is gonna keep hitting 3s on us. UMBC was hitting 3s. Virginia starts to freak out. They start closing out longer. UMBC starts dicing up their defense. And then Virginia panics. Everything just snowballs on top of itself. And that’s how we ended up where we were. This was just a perfect storm.

I certainly never would have expected Virginia to lose to a no. 16 seed, but if you would have told me that Virginia suffered a massive, embarrassing, humiliating loss, how do you think it happened? I would say, “Well, the team probably hit a bunch of 3s to start, then [the Cavaliers] freaked out and tried to play from behind, and they’re not built to do that.”

Frazier: Or you would say the team probably shot 50 percent or better from 3, and Virginia probably shot 25 percent or less from 3. That’s exactly what happened. UMBC was 12-of-24 from 3. Virginia was 18 percent. But I want to talk about the logic behind Virginia’s style of play. Even [Charles] Barkley after the game, he said, “You can’t play the way Virginia plays with the 3-point line.” There’s just too much of a variance. If a team gets hot you can’t get a win. But the reason that I say you can, and the reason that I think Virginia lost, is in the tournament you have to be able to adjust. You have to be able to deviate from the plan.

The whole point of Tony Bennett’s system at Virginia is we have a plan. It’s the packline. This is what we do. But when they got down by 14 or 15, they inherently deviated from the plan because they rushed everything on offense.

Patience is key on offense. Not only do you have to play great defense to play Tony Bennett’s style, but you have to be patient. You have play the clock. And in the times in this game when [the Cavaliers] got down, they started to rush. They started to force it. You could see that they obviously understood that they did not have the possessions that they needed to come back in this game, so Ty Jerome is taking 3s. Isaiah Wilkins is taking 3s. It’s like one dribble and they’re pulling up from 3.

My question to you is, if you’re Tony Bennett and you see your team is [unraveling], do you just say, “We gotta get away from what we’re doing right now.” … There had to be some other wrinkle to throw into this.

Titus: I would actually argue maybe the opposite. I felt like Virginia didn’t stick to their plan. Ideally I would’ve liked for Virginia to say, “We won 31 games. We went [31-2 before the NCAA tournament].” … They lose one game earlier in the [season] to West Virginia, and then the only other game they lose comes in overtime. Playing a certain way got them this far. And like you said, their whole defense is predicated on the percentages. You’re saying like, “UMBC is gonna come out hot. They’re gonna hit 3s, that’s fine. Let them do that. They can’t possibly keep this pace going.” And I guess I would’ve like to see [Virginia] stick to the plan more. In a weird way, keep giving UMBC the 3s. Because they didn’t know what to give them.

So Baltimore starts hitting [3s], and then suddenly Virginia doesn’t know what to do. Are we trying to take away the 3s? Are we trying to take away the drives? So they get flustered and they take away nothing. I think, for me, I wish they just would’ve stuck to the plan. … The shots are gonna stop falling for them. They’re gonna start falling for us. We don’t need to rush shots. You can’t hit a 15-point shot on offense.