The throngs of Virginia fans ready to party in the nation's capital Monday night were treated instead to an early-season wake-up call for their beloved Cavaliers. Tony Bennett’s squad looked disjointed and unfocused in a 5-point loss to a solid, but not unbeatable, George Washington team. To quote Wahoo favorite Mark Titus, Virginia looked "unrecognizable" at times.
So...Should We Be Worried?
The short answer is...not yet. We've learned over the last two years that seasons aren’t defined by wins in November and December. Virginia was a mess in the fall of 2013 but rallied to put together its most successful March run in recent memory the following spring. Last year, the Hoos looked unbeatable well into ACC play, only to stall out in a disappointing March.
But still, the Virginia fanbase has quickly grown accustomed to an extremely-high level of play. And, frankly, we've been looking forward to November basketball since Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller broke our hearts in Scott Stadium in September. So it’s excusable if we find ourselves a bit antsy.
While it's probably too soon to worry, the GW game did give us a few items to monitor going forward. That's what we'll do in this column each week. Let's get to it.
1) Porous Perimeter Defense
Stopping drives and closing out on shooters are two main pillars of the Pack Line Defense, but Virginia struggled with both against the Colonials. George Washington found open shooters for clean looks. Anthony Gill got beat off the dribble. Even Nolte got beat off the dribble. Devon Hall, surprisingly, got beat off the dribble. And in most instances, the help defender didn’t rotate quickly enough. While it's early, this is an area where Virginia must improve if it hopes to beat good teams throughout the season.
2) Too Many Tough Shots
The Cavaliers started off the game with a couple of nice offensive sets that led to easy baskets inside. Quickly, however, they began settling for difficult jumpers and one-on-one attempts. With Gill on the bench for the final 12 minutes of the first half, Virginia struggled to get any easy looks. The Wahoos also looked rushed at times, though its unclear whether that was a product of a shortened shot clock or a lack of familiarity within the rotation.
3) Touch Fouls Galore
George Washington attacked Virginia’s defense all game and picked up a number of touch fouls in the process. In person, it seemed that Virginia defenders got sucked into a vicious spiral. Their slowness on defense led to fouls, while the hesitation caused by fouls fed into the slowness on defense. The referees are planning to enforce "freedom of movement" rather strictly this year. It will be interesting to see how long they keep it up. Virginia will need to learn to defend under the stricter whistle if it hopes to be successful.
4) Where's Malcolm?
If you happened to be within earshot of section 213 Monday night, you probably heard me sarcastically yelling: "Hey...let's try giving the ball to the All-American this time!" While All-America candidate Malcolm Brogdon finished with 28 points, he had to earn almost every one of them on his own. The grand majority of Brogdon’s points came driving to the lane and creating for himself. His teammates completely forgot about him for the first 15 minutes of the first half. They can’t continue to do that if they want to beat good teams. Brogdon needs to be engaged early and often for the Hoos to have continued success.
The Bottom Line
Make no mistake, Virginia played poorly Monday night. But it’s too early to get bent out of shape over a loss, especially one against a good team in a hostile environment. For as much as the Hoos need to work on, they were a couple of bounces from pulling out a tough road win. Fortunately, it's a long season. Virginia has a number of opportunities to make some noise before conference play. Let's see how the team looks this time next week.