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Virginia Men’s Basketball: Checking in with expectations at the midpoint of ACC play

Where are the Hoos meeting or exceeding expectations?

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, Virginia kicks off the second half of the ACC basketball season. We are officially halfway through the conference schedule, and the reigning National Champs (no, that never gets old) currently sit alone in fourth place in the ACC at 6-4. Virginia is in the midst of a two game win streak, and has won three of the last four.

Before the Hoos face Clemson (7pm, RSN), we’re taking at look at how expectations have been not met, met, or exceeded so far this ACC season.

Short of Expectations

Shooting - Wooo boy. It’s bad. Virginia’s offense is by far the worst under Tony Bennett, clocking in at No. 276. The 2011 squad — which featured an injured Mike Scott and first year Akil Mitchell — was No. 159 for comparison. That team struggled inside, making just 43% of its two-pointers while shooting 38.8% from outside (thanks, Joe Harris!). This year? The Cavaliers are making just 27.2% from beyond the arc and shooting 48.1% inside.

There’s blame to go around, but Kihei Clark (22.2%), Kody Stattmann (21.7%), Casey Morsell (14.8%), and Braxton Key (10.7%) are all shooting under 25% with at least 20 attempts in ACC play. In positive news, Virginia is shooting twice as many shots from inside (54%) than outside (27%).

And that leads us to the next part...

Turnovers - Virginia fans have been conditioned to know a few things about basketball under Tony Bennett: they’re going to play great defense, they don’t foul a lot, and they don’t turn the ball over. Well, that last one is a bit of a struggle this season. The Cavaliers are turning the ball over frequently — 21.7% of the time this season in ACC play, to be exact — and that’s not a good combo with poor shooting.

To be clear, just about every player is learning a new role after De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and Jack Salt departed for the NBA/Euro leagues. But, a team with this slim of a margin of error, the turnovers really hurt. Kihei Clark has assumed a bigger role as the lone point guard, but his turnover rate of 26% has created some problems. On the season, Clark has 66 turnovers (3.5 per game). Last year? He had 39 total (1.03 per game).

Meeting Expectations

The Record - Maybe this won’t be popular, but with what Virginia lost, sitting at 6-4 through 10 games with a win over a top-5 team is about what I expected from the Cavaliers this season. This team has shown they can struggle, but also shown that they can hang with any team in the country (except a super bitter Purdue team on the road...that’s fair, we’ll keep the Elite 8 win).

Exceeding Expectations

Woldetensae’s Three-Point Shooting - Despite the horrible stats listed above about three-point shooting, there has been a bright spot: transfer Tomas Woldetensae. In conference play, Woldetensae is shooting 21-for-51 (41.2%) and has gone 15-for-30 (50%) over the last five games. Against Wake Forest, Woldetensae’s 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting propelled the Hoos to a desperately needed road win.

Defense - Never. Ever. Count. Out. A. Tony. Bennett. Defense. Despite the bad offense, the defense has been anything but. The Cavaliers are No. 1 overall on KenPom (and therefore No. 1 overall in the ACC) in defensive efficiency, weighted by their No. 1 mark in the conference in eFG% (41.7%) and 2P% (40.8%). The most points scored against the Cavaliers in conference play were the 65 points Syracuse put up, and that only happened after the Orange rattled off five threes in OT.

Yeah, the defense is good.