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Same defense, same problems for Virginia opponents

It happened to Iowa's Dom Uhl on Friday night.

In the second half of his team's 33-point Emerald Coast Classic semifinal loss to Virginia, the 6-foot-9 forward scurried to the perimeter and launched one of his team's 17 errant attempts from beyond the arc (6-for-23 overall). He seemed stunned by the pressure the Cavs delivered as the shot clock approached zero.

Then, it happened to Providence freshman Maliek White on Saturday as his team tussled with Virginia and ultimately lost 63-52 in the title game of the tournament in Niceville, Florida.

Virginia, ranked as KenPom's most efficient defense, surrendered a season-high 52 points against the Friars. Before Saturday's game, three of Virginia's previous four victims scored less than 40 points. Iowa finished with 41.

The shot clock is a burden when teams face the Cavs. Every pass around the perimeter, every attempt to penetrate, every dribble off a ball screen feels like a trap.

Opponents spend the bulk of the 30-second allotment searching for a pocket. When that fails to emerge, teams often panic and become improvisers who take bad shots because they're the only available opportunities.

Per Synergy Sports research, Virginia's opponents had made just 29.7 percent of their shots from their half-court sets entering Saturday's game.

"They really are a great example of five guys playing as one," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team's loss Friday. "They're in the gaps, they're fighting the post, they close off penetration."

It's the same story, the same persona.

Virginia continues to flummox opponents with a unique defensive execution that helped the Cavaliers earn a top-10 ranking in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings in four of the previous five seasons. Those four seasons (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016) under coach Tony Bennett all ended in the NCAA tournament (2012 was the school's first appearance in five seasons). In 2013, Bennett's squad finished 24th in KenPom's ratings and missed the NCAA tournament.

When the Cavs showcase the defensive strength they've displayed thus far, they tend to compete for the ACC championship and earn a respectable seed in the NCAA tournament.

The loss of Austin Nichols, who was recently kicked off the team, could impact Virginia when it needs a versatile offensive threat inside against the high-powered frontcourts of Duke, North Carolina and Louisville.

But the perennial question remains for all opponents of a Virginia team that's an aggressive defensive unit -- and has also made nearly 60 percent of its shots inside the arc.

How will you score against them?

Virginia's first six opponents can't help you with that answer.