Virginia was able to get off the snide, picking up their first ACC road win in dramatic fashion. It took an epic comeback (down 7 with 20 seconds to go), but a win is a win. The win was Virginia's third in a row and runs their record to 5-3 in the ACC. Despite the win over Wake Forest, Virginia didn't play all that well. Nevertheless, here is how the week looked, From the Rafters.
1) Darius Thompson OMG - Thanks to Darius Thompson's buzzer beater three-pointer and the most improbable of comebacks, Virginia got their first road win of the season. And that is where the good stops. Enjoy it, back away slowly, don't make eye contact, and let's everyone act like everything is OK.
2) Virginia gave up 13 three pointers to Syracuse - Wait, that's not good. Syracuse shot 43% percent from behind the arc. Virginia now ranks 226th in the country in three point percentage on defense. All that said, if you were to ask Coach Bennett, he would take those numbers in a heartbeat. The reason is that the three ball was all Syracuse could muster against the Cavalier defense. On the night the Orange shot a whopping 30 times from outside, compared to just 24 attempts from inside the arc. For a team that gets close to 50% of their points from two point range, the Virginia defense all but shut them out of the paint forcing the Orange into an 8 of 24 night. Three point defense is very arbitrary, but the way a team takes its three pointers is not. In the losses to Florida State and Georgia Tech, Virginia's opponents shot 46% and 53% respectively, both higher than what Syracuse was able to muster. The big difference was that FSU and GT had their way with Virginia inside the three point arc as well. Both teams had success penetrating the pack line, and either getting to the rim for a layup or forcing the defense to collapse, and kicking out to a wide open shooter. Syracuse found nothing on the inside, and thus took many contested jumpers, or settled for NBA range threes. Forcing teams to shoot from the outside, even if it means giving up a lot of threes is actually a sign things are going well for the Hoos.
3) Welcome back Marial Shayok - After averaging 3.5 minutes over the last four games, Marial Shayok found some court time once again and made the most of it tallying ten points on 4-4 shooting (including 2-2 from three), two assists, and one rebound. One of his two three pointers came with 14 seconds to go and was key in the last minute comeback. All game though, Shayok provided and element of spacing with the threat to hit an open jumper that can make the Cavaliers all the more lethal as the season progresses. It's still unknown as to whether Shayok was fully healthy over the last several games, but regardless, if he can build on Wednesday night's performance, he could go a long way to fulfilling the promise many UVA fans had for him and his sophomore season.
1) Wake dominated - Remember everything written above about keeping Syracuse out the paint, making them one-dimensional, and forcing them into contested or NBA-range three pointers? Yeah, well, then the Wake Forest game happened. Wake was a ridiculous 17-26 from inside the arc in the first half and the only saving grace for the Hoos was that the Demon Deacons shot 0-9 from three. Then, as things usually do, Wake's three point shooting regressed to the mean, and they shot 6 for 8 from three in the second. Coupled with their ability to still get into the lane and score almost at will, it was certainly not a signature effort by the Cavaliers' D.
2) Front-court struggles - 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks. That's a pretty solid stat line, right? Yes, except when it is the combined stat line for your three big men, not named Anthony Gill, over the span of two games. Mike Tobey, Jack Salt, and Jarred Reuter were essentially non-factors in the last two games. While Coach Bennett tinkers with lineup rotations, these players just can't find a groove. Jack Salt played only 4 minutes in each of the last two games, seemingly being in the game for his physicality, he only grabbed one rebound in that time. Reuter got some playing time in the second half against Wake Forest and the only thing that jumped out at me was an attempted reverse layup that made Virginia fans stop and say "wait, was that Jarred Reuter?" Then there is Mike Tobey. I love Mike Tobey. I think he has an offensive skill set that could make him a dominant post player at the college level and there was a stretch in the Syracuse game where he was just that. But, he makes too many plays that just make you shake your head. Whether it's a foul 20+ feet from the basket, or as in the Wake Forest game an attempt at a rebound where he forgets that he is 7'0" 260 lbs. Going forward, Virginia needs one of these big guys to play better next to Gill. If not, the defense can key on Gill and force the Virginia offense out to the perimeter.
What to watch for
1) "Rivalry" game - Upon Maryland's departure and Louisville's arrival in the ACC, the conference powers that be deemed that Virginia and Louisville would be rivals. Thus playing each other every year in football, and having a home and home each year in basketball. As basketball fans, this is great as the Cardinals are a blue blood and add instant legitimacy to the Cavaliers' schedule each year. On Saturday, Virginia will travel to the bluegrass state and attempt to avenge last year's 59-57 loss in the Yum! Center. This year's meeting will feature a matchup of the Virginia's number nine offense against Louisville's number five defense according to Ken Pomeroy. Louisville is the third ranked team in the country in the Kenpom ranks, but their best win was over number 45 Florida State. It will be Virginia's first road game where they aren't the favorite, and in a season where the road hasn't been especially kind to the Hoos, Virginia could be in for a long day. However, after Tuesday night's game, perhaps this team rides a wave of momentum. It's not outside the realm of possibility for Virginia to come away with the win. And, if they are able to do so, it could signal that the Hoos are ready once again to be counted among the country's elite.
Virginia will travel to Louisville on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip that will be televised by CBS.