After Friday's game, I for one was pretty giddy watching the 2015-2016 Hoos. Even with the knowledge that Morgan State wasn't exactly a world beater, I was very impressed with what I saw. I saw a team that was deep, I saw a team that was athletic, and I saw a team that looked to have embraced an offensive intensity I hadn't seen under Tony Bennett. Then Monday happened. Plagued by many of the mistakes that haunted Virginia last year such as reliance on one or two players for offense, lack of an outside shooting presence, and an no sense of urgency late in games, Virginia just couldn't do enough to avoid the upset. While there is a lot to discuss about what went right and what went wrong, let's see how the Hoos did in context of our things to watch for, From the Rafters.
In case you missed it, here is what we were looking for going into last weekend's games.
1) Nice to meet you Darius Thompson - No Virginia player personifies the ups and downs of the weekend more than Darius Thompson. Thompson earned the start in his first two games in a Cavalier uniform, and the results of those two outings couldn't be more different. On Friday, Thompson electrified the home crowd scoring 12 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a sweet orange streak in his hair. Beyond the stat-line, though he brought energy and excitement left void by the early departure of Justin Anderson. However, on Monday that completely turned around. The defensive intensity that netted three steals on Friday turned into five fouls, and his 1-4 shooting from three point land has made Hoo fans yearn for Anderson, the departed three point sharpshooter. So, which is it? Personally, I think it's going to be more of the former, as had Virginia come away with a win we might be talking about how Thompson is shooting 33% from three on the season, and that on George Washington's first possession of the game, Thompson literally ripped the ball out of the point guard's hands like he was a two year old with a sharing problem.
2) Who's the Fifth Starter? - Well that question was answered pretty well above, as Thompson got the start in both games. Some might have thought that the starters would be determined by matchup, as Morgan State was the smaller of the two opponents, but when Thompson lined up against George Washington, you figured that was the lineup Coach Bennett felt most comfortable with to start. What is most intriguing is the distribution of minutes between the two games. Against Morgan State, 11 Cavaliers played at least 8 minutes, with Thompson leading the way with 23. Obviously that was game dependent as on Monday only eight Cavaliers topped eight minutes while each of the starters played at least 23 minutes, led by Malcolm Brogdon with 38 and London Perrantes with 33. What is also very intriguing is the lack of playing time for Marial Shayok and Evan Nolte. Both figuring to be the favorites for a starting positions and/or first player off the bench, Shayok averaged 13 minutes per game while Nolte only averaged 8.5. You could argue that Nolte's decrease in minutes is somewhat expected as, after four years we know what he is as a player, but many expected a big season out Shayok. Whether that explosion is yet to come, or he has been surpassed by Thompson and Devon Hall is yet to be seen.
3) What effect do the rule changes have on the Hoos? - I admit, that in my Thursday preview, I focused primarily on the effect the 30-second shot clock would have on the Hoos' offense. And while it certainly was a factor (there was successful uptempo play against Morgan State that looked sloppy against George Washington) the biggest change was seen in the referee's emphasis on enforcing freedom of movement for the offensive player. While I recognized this would be a change, I felt that since the pack line defense is played with feet rather than hands, it wasn't going to be as much of a change for the Hoos as it might for some other teams who play man-to-man defense. I was wrong. Clearly, George Washington exploited this rule change, almost having no regard for the pack line and the help defense that was supposed to be present. They continually drove to the basket, and to their credit drew 24 fouls and earned 28 free throws. Virginia didn't look comfortable as each drive to the basket either resulted in a foul (from the Virginia player trying to deny) or an easy basket (as the Virginia player was afraid of fouling). This more than any other takeaway is something that Virginia will have to adjust to, or it is going to be a long season.
Virginia returns to action this Thursday in the Charleston Classic against the Bradley Braves. It's an opportunity to right the ship and prove that this is the team we all expected for the last several months.