RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Joe Harris spent last season as Virginia’s go-to guy before Malcolm Brogdon stepped into his own leading role as a top scorer and clutch shooter.
That’s given the top-seeded Cavaliers two perimeter players capable of making the big basket in a close game. That depth has carried Virginia to the third round of the NCAA tournament’s East Regional to face eighth-seeded Memphis on Sunday.
”Not having a go-to guy and still having success means everybody’s contributing, everybody’s playing a major role,” Brogdon said Saturday. ”And I think that’s really been the key to our success. We don’t heavily rely on any one person.”
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The formula has worked for Virginia (29-6), which is a win shy of tying the school season record for victories while earning a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1983.
Virginia is trying to reach the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since 1995.
Harris has gone from averaging 16.3 points last season to 11.7 as a senior while taking 94 fewer shots with the emergence of Brogdon, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick averaging a team-best 12.7 points. The sophomore hit the last-second 3-pointer to win at Pittsburgh in February.
”It just makes the defense not be able to stack the deck as they did at times last year against Joe,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. ”And that’s made us, I think, a little more potent offensively at different times.”
The Tigers (24-9) held off ninth-seeded George Washington 71-66 on Friday night to advance. They are trying to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2009, John Calipari’s final year as coach before Josh Pastner took over.
He’s relying on his team’s perimeter depth, too, led by top scorer Joe Jackson (14.3 points) and American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year Michael Dixon Jr. (12 points).
”We’ve got senior guards and they have to match up with us as well,” Pastner said. ”And I know that’s something that they’ll have to prepare for, just like we have to prepare for them and their perimeter guys.”
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s Memphis-Virginia game:
TEMPO CLASH: Memphis – which averages 77.4 points – wants to get out in transition and push the tempo. Virginia wants to do anything but. Virginia is among the nation’s defensive leaders in several categories while running an offense that forces opponents to defend deep into the shot clock. As a result, Virginia entered Raleigh allowing a national-best 55.3 points per game. ”We’ve just got to play Memphis basketball,” Jackson said. ”We’re not a slow-down team. Everybody knows that.”
PERRANTES’ PLAY: Virginia freshman point guard London Perrantes will be key for the Cavaliers in their effort to control tempo. He had 12 points, six assists and no turnovers in his tournament debut against Coastal Carolina. He is shooting 68 percent (21 of 31) from 3-point range in the last nine games.
BALL MOVEMENT: One of the best parts of Memphis’ game is how they share the ball. The Tigers rank fourth nationally in assists per game (17.4) and have assisted on nearly 62 percent of their field goals this year. Memphis needs to move the ball quickly against Virginia’s pack-line defense to get clean looks.
FAVORED STATUS: Virginia didn’t exactly play to its No. 1 seed in the opening win against Coastal Carolina, falling behind by 10 points in the first half and trailing 35-30 at halftime. The Cavaliers stepped up after halftime by locking down on the Chanticleers and improving their own offensive efficiency, but they can’t afford another start like that with Memphis eager to take down a No. 1 seed. ”I felt like we were nervous,” senior Akil Mitchell said. ”But it’s good to get back on the floor and shake some of the rust off.”
GERON’S GUARANTEE: Memphis senior guard Geron Johnson attracted attention when he guaranteed the Tigers would win two NCAA games shortly after their loss in the AAC tournament. The Tigers are halfway there and he’s sticking by his prediction that they’re headed to the round of 16 in Madison Square Garden. ”It’s never changed,” he said. ”We’re going to get a victory. I’m going to be in New York next week.”
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