This team is legit
Probably the most obvious takeaway I’ve ever written, but if you couldn’t tell from watching the game, this UVA team is officially legit. I’m not talking top-25 good, I’m not talking top-three in the ACC good, not even Sweet Sixteen good.
I’m talking National Champion good.
Listen, maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself right now. But it’s hard not to. Baylor is not overhyped at #5 in the country. This is a serious national contender with the mix of savvy, experienced players who win you games in March (Adam Flagler, for instance) and extremely good, young talent (Keyonte George) that has proved to be the winning formula for many a championship team in the past. Throw in how good of a coach Scott Drew is, the fact that Baylor both out-rebounded UVA and committed fewer turnovers than the ‘Hoos, and that Baylor is exactly the type of team to beat a Tony Benentt-coached UVA team, and this win looks even better.
What I mean by Baylor being the perfect opponent to give UVA trouble is that not only are their best players in the backcourt, but they’ve got shot-makers who can punish the Packline defense. Additionally, the Bears’ defense, which denies opponents the middle of the court, switched most off-ball screens that UVA used, and puts pressure on the ball handler is similar to the sorts of defenses that have given Bennett’s teams so many issues in the past.
But no, UVA tamed the Bears with their own shotmaking, a versatile offense that can beat you in a variety of ways, and a defense that might not be absolute tops in the country, but is still good enough to shut down a high-powered offense for a meaningful stretch and allow the team to make a significant run.
Virginia basketball is back to being a national contender. There, I said it. Prove me right Wahoos.
Virginia overcomes Baylor’s late run
There was a point in time where it felt like nothing could go wrong for the ‘Hoos in this game. After being down by three to Baylor at halftime, UVA pulled off a 30-5 run to start the second half to go ahead by 22 points with 10:48 remaining in the game. Right then it seemed like the ‘Hoos were about to run away with it.
And, while the ‘Hoos did eventually pull out a seven-point victory, there were some incredibly nervous times for Wahoo fans in the last ten minutes of regulation. But, frankly, that just goes to show (even more) how good of a win this was for Tony Bennett’s squad.
While a 13-2 run for the Bears after UVA had the 22-point lead meant that the game was back to being competitive as Keyonte George and Adam Flagler made shot after shot after shot and the Baylor press gave every Virginia fan much-hated flashbacks to a certain Syracuse loss from over six years ago, the ‘Hoos kept Baylor at bay as they were overall pretty effective in beating the press and made 22 of their 26 second half free throws.
That is proof of a very good team and underscores how Baylor is no slouch. Sure, it would have been fun to run away to a 30-point win, but this displays Virginia’s mettle and how valuable the veteran backcourt of Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, and Armaan Franklin is for this team.
Armaan Franklin is seriously good
Speaking of, Armaan Franklin has to be UVA’s MVP through three games this season. In three contests, he is averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting 52.9% from beyond the arc and 55.6% from the field. He also had three steals against Baylor as he scored 26 points to lead the UVA offense, finishing 7-12 from the field, 3-6 from deep, and 9-10 from the free throw line.
There are so many other players who have been playing absolute lights out basketball for this team and I’ll get to some of them in a second, but Franklin being THIS type of player is just so so huge for this offense and this backcourt. Virginia struggled with Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark in the backcourt for two seasons because each was far better as a creator than as a finisher on offense and they didn’t have the right other guards around them to produce on the perimeter as they needed.
While Franklin wasn’t that guy last season, he absolutely is this year. And, assuming he maintains the pretty impressive consistency he’s established in his last 12 games (28-58 from deep for 48.3%) indicates this version of Franklin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
UVA has found a front-court pairing that really works
I really don’t mean this as a slight to Jayden Gardner. He’s still a very good player and he’ll absolutely have his moments for this team as the season progresses, I don’t doubt that whatsoever.
But, the combination of Ben Vander Plas and Kadin Shedrick in the front-court alongside UVA’s three starting guards is proving to be a special one. In 31 minutes, Shedrick scored 17 points against Baylor (6-6 from the field, 5-7 from the line) while he also had a pair of steals and a pair of blocks. He also had two really impressive makes from the midrange which changes the calculation for opposing defenses. Not in the stat sheet, he made life difficult for the Baylor guards throughout the night as a hedger and disruptor against ball screens.
Meanwhile, Vander Plas scored 14 points (4-5 from the field, 2-3 from deep, and 4-6 from the line) as his shooting ability has changed how the ‘Hoos play offense. Additionally, he’s been practically flawless defensively as the concerns raised about his mobility as a big in the demanding Wahoo defense and his overall soundness as a defender have squarely been put to bed.
This win is bigger than basketball
After a week out of hell for the UVA and Charlottesville communities, this win means the absolute world to everyone involved. There is no filling the gaping hole that the tragic losses of Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler left behind. No success on the court or on the field or anything, for that matter, can.
But, sometimes, sports can act as an effective distraction, or even a therapeutic way to help cope with tragedy. I know writing this story has been that for me. And I know that this win is that for the UVA fanbase, for the student body, for Charlottesville, and for the entire UVA athletics community.
"We know the pain and grief that so many are going through ... You [the team] honored the right things ... I want that coaching staff and those players to know how much we love them and are with them." - Coach TB pic.twitter.com/jrDwHRmXse— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 19, 2022
That being said, I once again want to point your attention to the verified GoFundMe fundraisers for the families of those we tragically lost on Sunday. If you are at all able, I strongly encourage you to consider donating to help these families in their most dire hour. We at Streaking the Lawn would greatly appreciate it.