ORLANDO | By now, everyone gets it about Virginia’s basketball team.
They’re first in the nation in defense, allowing only 55.6 points per game. They’re 64-2 under eighth-year coach Tony Bennett when holding opponents to less than 50 points, 9-0 this season.
The Cavaliers have forced 12 opponents into in-game scoring droughts of five minutes or longer, and some of those teams have prolific offenses, such as West Virginia and Iowa.
And they do it by starting four guards (and playing five at times during games), forcing teams into a methodical pace that is maddening and relying on the steady leadership of senior point guard London Perrantes, who lead Virginia in scoring (12.9 per game), assists (3.8), free-throw percentage (.809) and minutes played (32.2).
“They’re different … I’ve never seen a team play the way they play,” said Gators’ forward Devin Robinson. “It’s real methodical and real different.”
And real good.
The fourth-seeded Gators (25-8) will play the fifth-seeded Cavs (23-10) on Saturday at 8:40 p.m. (TNT) in a second round NCAA East regional game at the Amway Center and will be going against a team that not only has a style all its own but has four starters and seven players overall who have NCAA tournament experience and five players who were on the 2015 team that reached the Elite Eight.
Virginia has won 22 or more games for a seventh year in a row and has a five-year streak of reaching the NCAA tournament and a seven-year post-season run.
By contrast, UF senior point Kasey Hill is the only one of the team with extensive NCAA experience before Thursday’s 80-65 victory over East Tennessee.
“What makes them good? Everything.” said Florida coach Mike White. “They’re so sound. They make you play differently. They don’t turn the ball over.”
The Gators obviously will try to keep UVA from dictating their slow-paced tempo and get into transition.
So would almost everyone who plays the Cavs.
“We’re a team that has had success in transition offense, in the open floor, off turnovers,” White said. “And we’re a team that has struggled at times in the half court. We’re going to have to score in the half court. I don’t know how many opportunities there will be.”
In addition to leading the nation in scoring defense, Virginia is first in fewest turnovers per game (9.5, as opposed to UF’s 11.9) and is 13th in field-goal percentage defense (.396).
The Gators are no slouch. UF actually is defending the 3-point shot better than UVA (.310, 19th in the nation, vs. Virginia’s .315, 31st) and is allowing 66.5 points per game, 46th in the nation and third in the SEC.
“Florida is terrific defensively and the numbers bear that out,” Bennett said. “They spread out and slide and they’re good with their length.”
Florida can also take a page from the UNC-Wilmington playbook. The Seahawks jumped out to a quick start in the first-round game on Thursday and built a 26-11 lead at one point. Virginia eventually stormed back and won 76-71 but it was only the second game this season the Cavaliers have won when giving up 70 or more points. UVA is 2-3 in those games.
“We’ve got to play defense and get in transition. get stops and get out and speed the game up and make them play at a different style,” Robinson said. “We can’t let them be comfortable. If they can be comfortable, it will be a long game for us.”
Perrantes and Bennett said Virginia may be store for a similar game against the Gators.
“With UNC-Wilmington, they ran … obviously Florida is maybe a little bit faster,” he said. “So last night’s game will definitely help us with that but we’ve got to make sure we get back [on defense] because their guards are so fast at getting into the paint.”
“Our defense wasn’t great yesterday,” Bennett said. “There’s times it hasn’t been good. When our defense is right, we can play with a lot of people and be successful. When it’s not, it’s hard.”
Florida guard Canyon Barry said there’s also a difference between not wanting to play at Virginia’s pace and getting into too much of a hurry.
“There’s a fine balance,” he said. “We don’t want to be trying to play so fast and push the tempo so much that we get out of rhythm and commit turnovers. We have to trust the game plan and trust our coaches.”
FLORIDA VS. VIRGINIA
When: Saturday, 8:40 p.m.
Where: Amway Center, Orlando.
TV/Radio: TNT/WFXJ 930-AM.
1 Devin Robinson, F, 6-8
11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg
23 Justin Leon, F, 6-8
6.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
13 Kevarrius Hayes, C, 6-9
6.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg
0 Kasey Hill, G, 6-1
9.9 ppg, 4.6 apg
5 KeVaughn Allen, G, 6-2
13.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg
33 Jack Salt, C, 6-11
3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg
0 Devon Hall, G, 6-5
8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg
5 Kyle Guy, G, 6-3
7.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg
32 London Perrantes, G, 6-2
12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg
51 Darius Thompson, G, 6-4
6.3 ppg, 2.1 apg
The skinny: Florida players Virginia for the third time in school history, with both previous meetings also coming in the post-season. The Gators lost 62-56 in the 1992 NIT and won 71-45 in the 2012 NCAAs. … The Gators are 9-3 in second-round games and have won their last six at this stage. UF’s last loss in a second-round game was to Villanova in 2005. … The Cavaliers have won five of their last six games.