In the #5 Virginia Cavaliers fifth game of the season, the ‘Hoos took care of business against Maryland Eastern-Shore to the tune of a 72-45 final score. After the dominant win and ahead of Tuesday’s road contest against Michigan, we’ve got five takeaways.
Jayden Gardner returns to form
In the first four games of the season, Jayden Gardner experienced a steep decrease in both production and time on the floor as the offense shifted away from its reliance on him and Ben Vander Plas emerged as another option for the ‘Hoos at power forward. Averaging just 19.8 minutes and 7.8 points per game coming into tonight, he answered any theoretical questions about whether he could still impact this team with 26 points in his 25 minutes against Maryland Eastern Shore.
Granted, the Eagles were a far inferior opponent with little size to compete against Gardner in the paint. That being said, he still looked good and probably needed this sort of game to get himself back on track. His midrange shooting in particular looked like it did last year after he started this season just 0-9 on long two-pointers. Of course, he’ll be hoping to get his free throw shooting back in the direction of his 79.3% success rate from last season as he shot 2-5 from the charity stripe tonight and is 19-30 (63.3%) so far this season.
The former ECU transfer will continue to be an integral piece for this team moving forward. Not to say that is particularly newsworthy but, considering how the other five of UVA’s top-six players have all had their moments in the early going, it’s good to see him dominate.
Virginia controls the paint
In a similar vein, UVA won this game by being bigger and better on the interior. Virginia outscored UMES 40-22 in the paint as Gardner and Kadin Shedrick (13 points) were the two guys in double figures for the Wahoos as the pair exerted their dominance on the Eagles, particularly in the first half and early in the second. Their ability to get inside positioning on the smaller UMES big men made life easy for a UVA offense that only shot 5-15 from beyond the arc.
The UVA guards also did well in getting the ball to those guys down low with Kihei Clark in particular finishing with eight assists. The Cavaliers may not have hit their average assist rate on the season, but Virginia still did have 18 assists on 27 total baskets for an impressive 66.6% rate. This group continues to show how it can win in a number of ways on offense while maintaining a team-first mentality. That’s important to establish early in the year.
UVA’s defense is impressively disruptive
Again, I’ll preface this with an acknowledgement of UMES not being a team at the standard of Illinois or Baylor so analysis of this result should be taken with a grain of salt. But, with that said, tonight was another example of Virginia’s best individual defenders being playmakers on the ball. The Wahoo defense totaled 10 steals and five blocks with Reece Beekman (four steals, one block), Kadin Shedrick (three steals, two blocks), and Kihei Clark (two steals, one block) all contributing meaningfully on that front.
UVA was also able to take advantage of such disruption on the defensive side of the ball with 20 points off turnovers and 11 in transition. Such success will be limited against better teams, but the ‘Hoos continue to display an ability to not just pack it in defensively, but also to make positive things happen on that side of the ball.
Young guys struggle some
Wins like these are typically opportunities for young guys to both get additional minutes and to perform against an opponent that can’t keep up. While Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn, and Taine Murray saw extended time on the floor today, they only combined for 7 points on 2-11 shooting from the floor in 36 minutes.
Granted, Dunn and McKneely in particular have already performed well this season while Murray had his moments last year. And McKneely did have two late threes tonight which underscored his ability to get hot at any time. So there’s no reason to panic as all experience is good experience. But this is maybe some evidence as to why Bennett and his staff has decided to rely so heavily on the top-six guys in the rotation.
Wahoos are the best team in the ACC
Okay so this isn’t entirely a takeaways from this win. But, with #1 North Carolina losing to unranked Iowa State tonight after a string of games where the Heels let far worse teams stay in the game with them and #8 Duke being similarly unsound in early season play, UVA has to be considered the top team in the ACC at this moment in time.
The wins against Baylor and Illinois and the comfort with which the ‘Hoos have handled their other opponents (outside of a short period against NC Central) give Tony Bennett’s team one of the best resumes in college basketball. Ahead of Tuesday’s game at Michigan, UVA is in a great position both internally and externally. Granted, ACC play hasn’t even started and we’re only five games into the season. But, still, Virginia is ahead of the rest in the conference at this moment in time.