'Hoos expect to be even tougher out this postseason

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Kyle Guy says this entire men's basketball season has been about exceeding expectations for No. 2 Virginia.

"As soon as we lost I was like all right, they're going to hold us to an even higher standard," Guy said Tuesday referencing the Cavaliers' historic loss to UMBC in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament. "We have a chance to be the No. 1 overall seed again. We're going to play a No. 16 seed again."

Guy and the rest of the Cavaliers were talking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the team left for this year's ACC Tournament in Charlotte. UVA (28-2 overall) earned the top seed in the bracket by finishing the regular season at 16-2 in ACC play, including a tie-breaking win over No. 2 seed North Carolina. The Wahoos will begin their run at a repeat at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals, against the winner of Wednesday's NC State/Clemson game.

"Everyone talks about how it didn't end how we wanted for sure. But I think this team is different. Our focus is different. Our mindset is different," said UVA junior forward Braxton Key, who arrived as a transfer from Alabama last off-season. "Granted I wasn't here so I couldn't really tell, but something feels different in the air here, for sure."

Something looks different on the stat sheet this season as well. UVA finished the regular season averaging 72.1 points, and winning by an average of 17.6 points per game. Right now, both of those statistics rank No. 1 among Tony Bennett's 10 teams at Virginia. This has also been Bennett's best 3-point shooting team, at 41.4 percent. Overall, the Cavaliers are shooting 47.9 percent from the floor, second only to the 2016 Elite Eight team (49.1 percent) among Bennett's teams.

Last year, the Wahoos finished the season averaging 67.1 points per game, and shooting 46 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

"We have a lot of interchangeable pieces," said UVA redshirt sophomore guard De'Andre Hunter. "And I feel like we have a lot of guys who could just, at times, get their own basket when the offense isn't working."

Guy (15.3 ppg) and Hunter (15.2 ppg) are practically even atop the Cavaliers' season stat sheet. Junior guard Ty Jerome (13.5 ppg) gives UVA a third double-digit scorer. All three are also shooting at least 45 percent from the floor, 42 percent on 3-pointers and 74 percent from the free throw line.

But the Cavaliers' versatility offensively extends beyond those three.

"Any time one of us has 20 points, it's because of the other two guys, or because of someone else," Guy said. "Obviously everyone plays a part in that."

"Louisville had a bunch of our options covered last game, and Jay (Huff) comes in and goes 3-for-3 from three, and we go offense-defense and Mamadi (Diakite) gets big stops," Jerome pointed out. "And Braxton comes in and hits a corner three and grabs three offensive rebounds."

"You've got guys like Dre and Braxton, can play the three-four, inside out," said senior center Jack Salt. "You've got Jay that can stretch the floor as a five. Mamadi's playing really well in the post, Kihei is giving lifts on offense. And obviously there's the regular guys that to what they do."

According to KenPom.com, Virginia finished the regular season as the second-most efficient offense in the country, behind only Gonzaga. That's better than UVA's defense, which ranks third nationally according to the site's efficiency ratings. The Cavaliers enter the postseason giving up a nation-low 54.6 points per game.

The Wahoos believe a more versatile and efficient offense will make them that much tougher to beat in March.

"We're always going to have a target on our back," Guy said. "But now that offensively we're as good as we've ever been, it's a lot easier for us to hang with anybody."

"Every guy that steps up makes us that tougher to game plan for. None of us have any egos," said Jerome. "So I think all those factors make us a tough out. But there are a lot of teams that are a tough out, so every game is going to be a dog fight at this time of the year."



 
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