Behind Enemy Lines: Cavalier Daily writer breaks down Virginia basketball

BY TOM CLOS | MARCH 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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Daniel Weltz is the sports editor and men’s basketball associate editor for the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper. The Daily Iowan caught up with Weltz and asked him to provide some insight on the Cavaliers in preparation for the Hawkeyes’ upcoming NIT quarterfinal game at Virginia today.

DI: Why did UVA miss the NCAA Tournament with what looked to be a tournament-worthy record (21-11, 11-7 ACC)?

Weltz: Head coach Tony Bennett summed it up best: “We’re the Dos Equis bubble team. We’re the most interesting bubble team in the world.” Wins against talented opponents such as Duke, N.C. State, Wisconsin, and North Carolina buoyed the team’s tournament résumé. But losses against three Colonial Athletic Association teams seemed to be too much to overcome.

A late season swoon that included losing three of four games after upsetting the Blue Devils sealed the team’s postseason fate. Virginia players and coaches appeared at peace with the decision, however, admitting that they did not show enough down the stretch to command an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

DI: What have the Cavaliers done in their first two games to help them reach the NIT quarterfinals?

Weltz: The Cavaliers slogged through their opening round game against Norfolk State in one of their poorest performances to date, and the game was much closer than the 67-56 score indicated. The Spartans were within 4 with fewer than four minutes remaining, but freshman guard Justin Anderson made enough key plays down the stretch to help the team advance.

The 68-50 win against St. Johns on Sunday was a different story entirely. Virginia played tenacious defense, shared the ball, and appeared genuinely excited to play in the NIT. The key all season for Cavaliers has been defense, and that was crucial in both victories. Perhaps the most notable occurrence for Virginia in the thus far has been the play of its freshmen, in particular Anderson.

DI: What player should Hawkeye fans watch out for when the teams tip?

Weltz: Opposing coaches and national media have been keying in on All-ACC first-team junior shooting-guard Joe Harris, who announced his presence to the nation by scoring 36 points in the win against Duke, but another player has made the largest difference in recent weeks. Freshman guard/forward Justin Anderson, a highly touted recruit and burst of energy on the court, has emerged as the team’s best offensive option in the past few games. He led Virginia with 18 points against St. Johns and scored 15 against Norfolk State in the opening round.

DI: Iowa City has shown great support for the Hawkeyes throughout the NIT; can the same be said about Charlottesville?

Weltz: After a relatively dull atmosphere in the first round matchup against Norfolk State, the “Wahoo Nation” came out in full force and with renewed energy for the team’s second round matchup against St. Johns. Cavalier fans have been tremendous this year, and the coaching staff and players have repeatedly praised their energy for being a key factor in the team’s home winning streak.

The results support that theory, as Virginia has been an entirely different team at home compared with on the road. Wednesday’s game should feature the most rowdy crowd of any of the team’s three NIT games, but the atmosphere will likely fall short of the energy for the team’s upset win against Duke.

DI: The Cavaliers have won 19-straight home games; what is the key to Iowa stopping that streak?

Weltz: Without knowing too much about the Hawkeyes, the key weakness of Virginia is that its lacks consistent offensive firepower. The team’s historic home winning streak has been based first and foremost on its vaunted “pack line” defense. However, the Cavaliers’ lack of reliable weapons on the other end means that they are best served playing with a lead.

If Iowa can get hot from deep and put Virginia in an early hole, it may make the Cavs uncomfortable playing a slow-paced style. Virginia has won most of its home games this season by double digits, so it remains to be seen how well it can play from behind or during crunch time, a comeback win against Maryland notwithstanding.

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