As the Virginia Cavaliers easily handled the Radford Highlanders in their second contest of the season, the team bounced back from a rare season opening loss and are on the upward swing before a trip out to Houston to play the 15th-ranked Cougars on the road. But, before looking ahead to that contest, there’s plenty to conclude from UVA’s first win of the season.
Three point shooting is back
After shooting 4-16 from behind the arc against Navy, the ‘Hoos came out confidently against Radford as Armaan Franklin in particular found his shooting stroke, finishing with 21 points on 7-12 shooting from the floor and 5-8 shooting from deep.
Franklin’s drastic improvement from game one to game two was incredibly relieving for the UVA offense as point guards Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman were continuously rewarded for the paint penetration in Franklin triples. In many ways, this performance from the Indiana transfer reaffirmed why Franklin was such a big target for the Wahoos in the transfer portal.
Of course, Beekman and Clark’s increased willingness to shoot threes helped matters as shot 1-2 and 1-3 from beyond the arc. Taine Murray and Carson McCorkle also added to the perimeter shooting with a three each.
With how heavily the ‘Hoos are relying on their sides, mover-blocker offense, it is absolutely critical that the guards flying around the pin down screens stress the defense and force it to extend out to them on the perimeter. That then allows the guards to touch the paint and the bigs to go to work in the low blocks.
Bennett expands the rotation
After only playing seven players for more than two minutes against Navy, Tony Bennett expanded the rotation to nine against Radford as Carson McCorkle and Taine Murray got their first real rotational minutes as Wahoos.
Each proved to fit in well as neither of them was exploited defensively. In fact, Murray looked incredibly solid playing as a small ball four and while guarding bigger players, while McCorkle consistently pestered his man and moved well on the perimeter.
Those two getting real minutes is an encouraging development for this team in both the short and long term.
In the short term, a nine man rotation is much more sustainable than a seven player one. Plus, considering that UVA’s bench against Navy consisted of Francisco Caffaro and Kody Stattmann who — while they are playable depth — don’t provide the shooting or potential offensive production that Murray and McCorkle do.
Then, long term, if none of McCorkle, Murray, nor Igor Milicic Jr. got rotational minutes this season, it would be another instance of Virginia’s young guys failing to be ready for the spotlight early in their careers. Too many underclassmen of late haven’t been capable of contributing, so it’s great to see two young guys gaining experience and confidence early in the season.
Against lesser competition, the defense solidifies itself
Despite a hot shooting start from the Highlanders, the Virginia defense weathered the storm and proved to be much more polished than the defense from the first half in the Navy game. The rotations were quicker, the individual defense was generally on point, and plenty of plays were made on the ball as the ‘Hoos finished with 9 steals and 7 blocks.
UVA did give up a few too many offensive rebounds for the second straight game as Radford corralled 11 of their 33 misses. So, that will undoubtedly be a sticking point for Tony Bennett and his staff ahead of Tuesday’s game in Houston.
But, overall, the defense was far sounder tonight than Tuesday. Sure, Radford didn’t shoot as nearly as well as Navy did, and the Highlanders are much lesser competition. But Virginia did what needed to be done.
Young guys oozing defensive potential
On that note regarding the Wahoo defense, you can’t help but be excited about the defensive potential of a number of the young guys on this roster.
Starting with Reece Beekman, the second year point guard continues to display next level abilities defending both on and off ball. His quick feet, fantastic footwork, quick and active hands, nice length, and general instincts likely make him Virginia’s best defender on the perimeter and a force to reckon with for opposing guards.
Among the big men, Kadin Shedrick was all over the floor for the second straight game as he racked up 4 blocks and a steal. He’s proving himself to be the heir apparent of great big defenders in Bennett’s program as his mobility makes him an absolute menace in the paint.
The real test comes at Houston
This was an absolutely necessary bounce back game for UVA following Tuesday’s performance especially considering the big time test that is coming against Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars this coming Tuesday. Much of what were issues for the ‘Hoos against Navy were amended against Radford.
Yet, #15 Houston will give us our first look of the Cavaliers against the type of competition they’ll have to beat to be competitive in the ACC this season. While it will be difficult to leave Texas with a win, a competitive outing from the ‘Hoos would go a long way in proving that the loss to Navy was an exception rather than the norm for this bunch.