- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. | Mike Tobey pulled out the scissors to free his encased ankles after Saturday night’s win. Tobey was back in the locker room following an engaged evening on the floor. He didn’t play much, so any sweat he was about to set free from the athletic tape around his ankles would have been earned by his efforts on the sideline.

Tobey had worked the Virginia bench like a 7-foot hype man. When players came over for timeouts, he talked them up. When Anthony Gill threw in a shot while falling down and being fouled, Tobey rose from the bench to yell.

The game was not structured for his traits. He shot well — 5-for-5 from the field, he was just too big for Butler on offense. But, there wasn’t a defensive place for him on the floor when Gill was out there, so Tobey played just nine minutes and spent the evening cheering. That ever-mechanical Virginia could adapt by not using one of its crucial players can be considered a sign this tournament may be different.

“He was so happy for his team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “He understood. It was just one of those match-up games. I can’t tell you what he’s done for this team. I mean, he’s done it at different times but his kind of emergence and him playing the way he’s playing is significant.”

Without Tobey, the Cavaliers sliced through the second half. Sophomore Marial Shayok spent more time on the floor because of Virginia opting to use a four-guard lineup. He scored on pullup jumpers, drove and dropped a pass for a Gill dunk, and hit a 3-pointer. Shayok was so effective, he was asked afterward how it felt for Bennett to call plays for him in an NCAA tournament.

“It means a lot that they have confidence in me and I wanted to take advantage of the defender guarding me and just make the right play,” Shayok said.

He did well to dispatch a staid response because, a few minutes later, Bennett pointed out they don’t have plays for Shayok. Though, now after the question and performance, he expects Shayok to ask for one.

There was also notable nonstatistical work also done by Devon Hall. Once Bennett realized he needed to defend Butler hybrid forward Andrew Chrabascz with Brogdon, Hall was moved to pressure burly Bulldogs point guard Roosevelt Jones. It worked well enough that Virginia was able to corral the game, extend its lead to nine points with 2:35 to play, then survive a few throat-tightening drives from Jones in the final minutes.

This, after all, is how a No. 1 seed is supposed to be constructed. It’s expected to be versatile and intelligent. The Cavaliers’ changes have vaulted them into a Sweet 16 matchup with hearty No. 4 seed Iowa State, which is 23-11. The Cyclones spent the season on the cusp.

All 11 losses were against teams that made the NCAA tournament. Three were by one possession, two were in overtime, and none were by more than 10 points. Their contribution to the season-long wobbling atop college basketball came when they beat then-No. 1 Oklahoma. In their final game before the NCAA tournament, the Cyclones lost by three points to those same Sooners.

Driving Iowa State is Georges Niang. At 6 foot 8, Niang averages 20.2 points per game. A versatile forward, he shoots 39 percent from behind the 3-point line. Niang scored 28 points, had six rebounds and three assists in Iowa State’s comfortable 78-61 win against Arkansas-Little Rock in the second round. He is the juice for what is rated by Kenpom.com as the country’s third-best adjusted offense. Once again, Virginia will be in a run versus crawl pace tussle with its opponent.

However, Iowa State is troubled defensively. Kenpom.com lines it up as the 92nd ranked adjusted defense in the country.

Bennett will try to unravel Friday’s opponent this week and keep from making news. What he described as a dehydration-related dizzy spell in Virginia’s opening game of the tournament, became a spread out headline. Against Butler on Saturday, Bennett appeared to have another wobble during a timeout. It was shorter and didn’t cause him to fold down to the floor, like the first. But, Bennett downed numerous cups of water afterward, providing more ammunition for those who want to give him the business about his more publicized first incident.

“One of my friends, Duffy Conroy, sent me a text,” Bennett said. “It was Bobby Boucher, the “Water Boy.” He said, hire this guy as your water coach. I got a picture of Bobby Boucher/Adam Sandler on my phone.

“I was fine. I was more concerned I drank so much I was going to need time-outs for bathroom breaks. So, no, all good.”

For the second time in three seasons, and just ninth time in school history, Virginia goes to the Sweet 16. Some bench cheering, a bit of bench scoring, extra water and adjustments helped get it there. Now, it will have to deal with Niang.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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