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Scouting Report: How Jason Preston and Ohio pose matchup concerns for Virginia

Virginia must walk a uniquely challenging path to the NCAA Tournament. Due to contact tracing and quarantining, UVA will arrive late to the Indianapolis bubble — Friday, one day before a first round matchup with Ohio.

The Cavaliers will also be without one of their rotation pieces against the Bobcats. Virginia has a relatively thin rotation already; Tony Bennett’s club will now be without one of the eight players that participated in the quarterfinal win over Syracuse.

As of right now, that player is unknown, which makes analyzing the Virginia-Ohio game a little frivolous. Obviously, Virginia would prefer to have its full complement of players. With that said, certain guys are harder to replace; if Virginia were without Sam Hauser or Jay Huff, it would mean a great deal. (That’s perhaps a bleak way of thinking about things. The NCAA should’ve paid for everyone at the men’s and women’s tournaments to get the vaccine. Alas.)

Regardless, let’s try our best. Here’s a quick scouting primer on the Ohio Bobcats, who enter the tournament as one of the top offensive teams in the country.

 

Fundamentals: Ohio’s Stat Profile

Offense

    • Adjusted Efficiency
      • 112.9 points per 100 possessions, No. 30 — KenPom
      • 112.0 points per 100 possessions, No. 30 — Bart Torvik
    • Pace
      • 17.0 seconds per possession — No. 145
    • Passing
      • 59.8 percent of FGM are assisted
      • No. 23 in assist rate
    • Shooting
      • 38.7 percent of FGA are 3PA — No. 151
        • 36.6 3P% (No. 56)
      • 41.8 percent of FGA are 2PA at the rim, No. 31 — per Bart Torvik
        • 63.3 2P% around the basket, No. 53
      • 80.5 percent of FGA are 3PA or at the rim
        • 55.8 eFG% — No. 13
      • Only 19.5 percent of FGA are long 2PA — per Bart Torvik
        • No. 36 nationally
        • Alabama leads the nation: only 12.5 percent of Bama’s FGA are long 2PA
      • Catch-and-shoot FGA
        • 53.6 eFG% — No. 84
        • 34.2 percent of half-court FGA — No. 108, according to Synergy Sports
    • Per Possession
      • Spot-up
        • 1.04 PPP (54 eFG%) — No. 23
      • Pick-and-roll Ball Handler
        • 0.85 PPP (44.4 eFG%) — No. 57
      • Transition
        • 1.18 PPP (64.6 eFG%) — No. 20

Defense

    • Adjusted Efficiency
      • 102.1 points per 100 possessions, No. 178 — KenPom
      • 100.7 points per 100 possessions, No. 142 — Bart Torvik
    • Turnovers
      • 20 percent opponent TOV rate — No. 102
      • 9.2 percent steal rate — No. 168
    • Shooting
      • 39.9 percent of opponent FGA are 3PA — No. 264
        • Ohio gives up a lot of 3PA
        • 33.7 3P% — No. 163
      • 51.5 2p% — No. 245
        • 5.7 percent block rate — No. 314

Jason Preston: The Name To Know

At the top of Virginia’s scouting report for Ohio will be Jason Preston. With the exception of Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, Ohio’s star 6-foot-4 point guard is as talented as any lead ball handler Virginia’s seen this season.

Preston is a pick-and-roll-heavy guard, which he uses to ignite certain aspects of Ohio’s offense. He ranks 10th nationally in assist rate (38 percent), while checking in as one of only four players in the country with 25 percent usage, 30 percent assist rate and 40 3P%.

According to Synergy Sports, Preston scored 0.84 points per pick-and-roll possession as a ball handler this season. Head coach Jeff Boals scripts a lot of Ohio’s half-court offense; plenty of those sets will flow into some ball screen action with Preston.

Preston is also the escape hatch, though. When things bog down, Preston will recalibrate the possession via late-clock pick-and-roll.

While Preston isn’t super explosive, he has lots of little tricks to exploit in his advantage-creation situations. Instead of exiting a ball screen looking to blow by defenders and race to the rim, Preston will use his size, handle and shooting touch to score in a variety of ways.

Preston will stop and start — mixing speeds and tempo. Those little hesitation moves in the final third of the court keep defenders off balance and open up angles to finish around the cup. He’s capable of using his scoring touch from all kinds of weird angles.

Even in leverage situations, it’s hard to speed up Preston, who shot 66.1 percent at the rim in the half court and 46.8 percent on runners, according to Synergy. He takes his time and gets to his spots.

Preston is also willing to use his height and length as a finisher. This could post a bit of a challenge for the Cavaliers.

Again, it’s hard to predict specific matchups without knowing who is out for Virginia. If available, Kihei Clark is a good point of attack defender; he could heat things up and try to play inside of Preston’s wingspan. But he’s also seven inches shorter than Preston.

Preston is willing to initiate offense with his back to the basket, too, which is sort of interesting. He’ll put a pick-and-roll rearview pursuit defender in jail with his dribble, and then use that as leverage to back down.

If Preston is making shots like this, there isn’t much Virginia’s guards can do to contest 1-on-1 — if he’s able to get the ball to this final third of the floor. Virginia will need to send help. More specifically: Jay Huff (3.8 blocks per 40 minutes) as a help-line rim protector could loom large.

 

Im-Prest-ive Passing

Preston has really good feel and a lot of craft to his game. The junior from Orlando routinely sees things develop one beat ahead of the defense. He’s creative and can improvise with his passing; opponents simply can’t prepare for all the stuff Preston brings to the table.

His willingness to use his size and handle comes in handy as a facilitator, too. Watch on this possession as Preston directs the angle of the screen he wants from Dwight Wilson — before he puts Ayo Dosunmu in jail. With Dosunmu glued to his hip and Kofi Cockburn in a deep drop, Preston is able to use his back side and carve out what should’ve been an open jumper for Wilson.

Outside of simply taking what the defense gives him or making some predetermined pass, Preston has the ability to make layered reads with the basketball.

That type of pass isn’t exactly splitting the atom. Kent State’s defense is set; there aren’t too many moving parts. However, live-dribble skip passes that convert to open 3-pointers aren’t to be taken for granted: Preston summons his inner Tyrese Haliburton as he spies the second-line help defender sagging a little too far off Ben Vander Plas (37.1 3P%).

Preston sees the floor with terrific court vision. When a teammate is open off the pick-and-roll, there’s no hesitation. That ball will find shooters and cutters.

Virginia’s off-ball defenders must be alert and ready to closeout on these types of live-dribble spray passes. Vander Plas is an obvious target; so, too, is 6-foot-5 wing Ben Roderick (40.7 3P%).

On top of all of this, Preston may be one of the best pocket passers in college basketball. From pick-and-roll coverages, Virginia’s drop defenders (primarily Huff) must be ready to make passing windows appear as narrow as possible. Help defenders need to be alert as well.

When Preston gives the ball up to a non-scoring threat, Virginia’s defense hasn’t finished the job, either. Preston will continue to move and look to launch secondary actions.

 

Preston, The Shooter

Of Course, Ohio wants to the ball in Preston’s hands as much as possible. However, Boals runs several sets that feature offensive initiation from his big guys at the elbows — usually out of a Horns set or a 1-4 high look. These designs allow Preston to get off the ball and turn into a powerful catch-and-shoot weapon.

According to Synergy Sports, Preston posted a sizzling 73.4 percent effective shooting clip on catch-and-shoot attempts this season. That’s a borderline top 25 number in the country.

Preston has big-time shooting range off the catch and a quick release.

The off-ball gravity can turn Preston into a problem on the break as well. When Ohio runs in transition, Virginia must locate Preston as a shooter.

Preston doesn’t shoot all that often coming pindowns; however, he was 5-of-7 on FGA coming off screens this season. When Ohio runs him off baseline rub screens, Preston can curl and use that as another way to get into the paint.

Guarding Preston as a passer in the pick-and-roll

Typically, Virginia’s pick-and-roll defense schemes around the hard show or hedge-and-recover, although the geometry is altered some with Huff. Instead of asking the 7-footer to slide 25 feet from the hoop on every single ball screen, Huff will also drop or guard the action more flatly.

This allows Virginia to keep the ball-screen action in front and keeps Huff in the paint, as close to the rim as possible.

Huff has improved his mobility and comfort level when he hedges ball screens. However, Virginia’s weak-side pick-and-roll defense has lacked force at times this season.

When Huff shows like this on the screen-roll, the weak-side defender (Clark) must tag the rolling big man. This level of pick-and-roll defense will have trouble vs. Preston. Virginia needs to raise the level here.

 

Preston: Weaknesses

As good as he is, Preston has holes in his game. There are things for Virginia to exploit, which is why Reece Beekman could be a key figure — provided he’s one of the eligible players. Beekman is an elite on-ball guard defender at the point of attack and as an off-ball chaser.

He doesn’t give up much in size to Preston, and he just spent his entire freshman season bottling up different perimeter talents in the ACC, including Miami’s Isaiah Wong

Preston is not yet an elite pull-up shooter from. Nearly 83 percent of his 3-pointers this season were assisted. According to Synergy, Preston was just 7-of-31 on off-dribble jumpers in the half court this season (22.6 FG%, 29 eFG%). That’s a drop from his sophomore season when he was much better off the dribble: 17-of-49 FGA (48 eFG%).

The shot goes in here, but look at Preston’s lower body on this deep off-dribble 3-pointer. The release is funky; it may be a result of not having quite enough core strength to reliably shoot deep pull-up jumpers.

 

Preston scored just 0.57 points per isolation possession this season — on low volume. That, too, is a drop from the 2019-20 season. As a sophomore, Preston scored 1.06 points per isolation possession (60 eFG%).

During his junior season, Preston has struggled to get to the free throw line. He’s drawn just 3.4 fouls per 40 minutes. With the drop, he’s free throw attempt rate has declined, too: down from 33.5 to 19.1.

Virginia should feel pretty good about itself if Preston were to deviate from Ohio’s set offense and work 1-on-1 against Beekman. These situations are more likely to arise in late-clock scenarios, which are a key battleground area for this matchup.

 

Stretch-4 At The Door: Ben Vander Plas

Despite being a lower-usage (19.5 percent) piece on offense, junior stretch-4 Ben Vander Plas is another player to keep an eye on. At 6-foot-8 and 232 pounds, Vander Plas is a matchup concern. BVP is strong 3-point shooter who can put the ball on the deck, post-up and pass.

According to Synergy, Vander Plas posted an effective shooting rate of 78.1 percent on pick-and-pop attempts this season, which ranks top 10 nationally, just ahead of Kessler Edwards and Luka Garza, and right behind Clemson’s Aamir Simms.

Vander Plas transitions smoothly from ball screen to slipping into space, while shot-ready. He works very well in actions with Preston. When Hauser — a likely matchup with Vander Plas — is involved in defending the pick-and-roll, Virginia has him show and recover.

That can work, but it’s imperative that Virginia’s weak-side defenders be ready to stunt if the pop or slip comes in the middle of the floor. Clark commits a foul here, but the rotation is good. That activity is what will be needed against Ohio’s pick-and-pop actions.

Vander Plas isn’t just a standshill shooter, though. He can slide into space and make plays on the short roll as well: 18.3 percent assist rate. He’s solid attacking 4-on-3 opportunities.

Wilson, the transfer from James Madison, is the team’s primary 5; however, when Ohio wants to really juice its offense, Vander Plas can move down a position and work as a small-ball center.

From the Illinois game: Vander Plas hits this 3-ball while playing the 4, but you can see the damage he’s capable of vs. drop coverage on pick-and-roll when there’s no stunt.

 

How will Ohio defend Virginia?

Starting with the Florida State loss on Feb. 15, Virginia struggled late in the season against defenses that switched 1-5. FSU switches everything, regardless of opponent. However, Virginia’s struggles gave opponents a possible blueprint: switch off-ball actions to take away pindown shooting options and switch ball screens with Clark and Huff.

Duke deployed these tactics for the win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. During a Feb. 24 victory in Charlottesville, NC State routinely switched Manny Bates on Clark.

For the most part, Virginia really didn’t punish the smaller matchups in the post with Huff. As talented as Virginia is in terms of personnel, the team lacks a true 1-on-1/off-dribble switch-beater. (Beekman will get there eventually, but he’s not there consistently this season as a lower-usage piece on offense.)

In the regular season finale, Louisville switched 1-5 as well. Although it seemed as if Virginia adjusted some. Instead of waiting for a perfectly clean look out of blocker-mover, Virginia broke out of the offense earlier and attacked matchups. Empty-side pindown sets between Huff and Hauser were very impactful. Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession vs. Louisville — the team’s best offensive game in nearly two months.

Ohio doesn’t switch much on defense, although there’s some mixed in. With an upset on the mind, it’ll be interesting to see if Boals deviates and tries to switch more in an effort to short-circuit Virginia’s half-court offense.

 

Sets To Keep An Eye On

Ohio runs a fairly diverse and open playbook — sets that will involve all five guys moving around as scoring and screening threats. Here’s a quick look at a couple key offensive sets for the Bobcats.

 

Buckeye

This is a set that Louisville runs frequently. NC State mixed it in vs. Virginia this season as well.

 

Buckeye

 

Horns Flare

This is a good way for Ohio to generate a 3-pointer for Vander Plas.

 

Horns Flare

 

Horns Flare

If defenses late switch the action, Preston can look to attack his mismatch.

 

Horns Flare

 

Horns Elbow Split 

 

Horns Elbow Split Slice Post

 

Horns Elbow Split Slice Post

 

Horns Elbow Split Slice Pindown STS Post

 

Horns Twist

 

Horns Twist

 

Horns Flex

This is a good way for Ohio to run some action before launching pick-and-roll with Jason Preston.

 

 

Horns Flex

 

Horns Flex Back Cut

 

Rip

 

Rip

 

Floppy

 

Floppy

 

1-4 Iverson Slice Pindown STS

Good screen-the-screener action for Ohio

 

1-4 Iverson Slice Pindown STS

Box Set Cross Hook Post

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