On Tuesday, Zach used the exam break to examine how Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team are contenders for the national title. While the women’s team under Coach Agugua-Hamilton is undefeated, they’re not ready for the national stage yet.
They are, however, ready for the rigors of the ACC, a conference with four teams – Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, UNC and NC State — in the top 10 and four other teams, one of whom are the Wahoos, receiving votes. While there will be the inevitable bumps in the road, this team is going to win a lot of games in conference play and should by no means be the first squad out of the ACC tournament in March.
This team can put points on the board. Six different players have led the team in scoring, all 11 players on the team have reached double figures in at least one game, and there have been four games where every player who dressed scored. The women are averaging 77.9 points per game — it was in the low 60s last year — and their scoring margin ranks 14th nationally. They are third in the ACC only behind true national championship candidates Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. They push the pace and score in transition and they score in the paint. That they are posting a +23.5 point scoring margin is even more incredible given…
This is a bad three-point shooting team. The Cavaliers are converting just 28% of their shots from beyond the arc even as they hoist a lot of threes (they are 6th in the ACC in terms of threes attempted.) Sam Brunelle is the best on the team making a respectable 37% of her attempts, and both Kayden Lawson and McKenna Dale have had games when they have gone 4-6 from deep. But UVA has had games where they’ve gone 0-10, 3-17, and 5-20. And if that wasn’t bad enough…
This team is also a poor foul shooting team, making just 67% of their free throws. That’s 12th in the ACC and the ‘Hoos have only reached that level of success because Mir McLean has knocked down 20 of 26 free throws in the past three games alone. This is a welcome development because McLean was in a rough free throw slump to start the season: 40% through eight games.
What’s most worrisome is that Virginia has shot worse from the line in the team’s closest games. The ACC should give the ‘Hoos more tight games than the cupcake-enhanced out-of-conference slate has thus far, which means players will be more tired as they step up to the line.
This is a great rebounding team, and it is a team effort. The Wahoos are the leading rebounding team in the ACC and they are fifth nationally, both in total boards and in rebounding margin. And they are doing this with relatively small players with Brunelle, Camryn Taylor, and London Clarkson manning the 4 and the 5 positions. One of the ways they compensate is bringing a lot of size on the wings as Dale, Lawson, Carole Miller are big for the wing. And most importantly, for the purposes of the counting stats…
Coach Mox has the services of Mir McLean. McLean is averaging double figures in both scoring and rebounding, she’s had double-doubles in five of her last six games, and she notched a 13-point, 15-rebound double- double in the first half (!) versus William & Mary. McLean is simply ferocious on the boards, and yet she stands at just 5’11”. By way of comparison, Virginia Tech’s Liz Kitley, who has recorded eight double-doubles in 10 games, is 6’5”. South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, who has averaged a double-double for her entire career, is also 6’5”.
Slight wings aren’t supposed to be this good off the glass, but McLean is showing why she was recruited to Connecticut. McLean doesn’t need the ball in her hands to score and she reminds me of last year’s Emily Engstler (Louisville) who was a first-round pick. In one game McLean drew four charges. She is an agent of chaos and if she can continue her hot shooting at the foul line, she’s going to be in the running for ACC Player of the Year.
The team takes care of the ball. They are third in the ACC in turnover margin, fifth in assist to turnover ratio, and second in assists. UVA is averaging just under 15 turnovers a game, but that figure is bloated by one disastrous game where they coughed it up 30 times against East Carolina. This number should come down, despite the uptick in pressure from ACC play, because…
This team can adapt. Coach Mox wants these women to run, and they are eager disciples. But earlier in the season we saw lots of ill-advised 1 vs 2 and 2 vs 4 fast breaks where the ‘Hoos went straight to the bucket when they should have held the ball up. They’ve made the adjustment and are much more judicious in transition.
There’s a lot of depth on this team and Coach Mox is willing to use it all. She’s used at least seven different starting lineups and 10 of the 11 players on the team have had at least one 20-minute game. The coach in me believes that the game is the best teacher and if you like seeing the youngsters develop, it’s going to be easier (and more rewarding) to watch the growth of Yonta Vaugh, Cady Pauley and Kayden Lawson over the course of the season.
This is a distinct philosophical difference between Coach Mox and Tony Bennett. While I suspect the new-found minutes that Ryan Dunn and Isaac McNeely have enjoyed the past three games will dry up once Reece Beekman returns to full health, the women at the back end of Mox’s bench will have ample opportunities to contribute for the remainder of the season. Buckle up! It’s going to be an enjoyable ride.
Next Up: The men and women are the only pair of undefeated teams in the country. The men, of course, face Houston this weekend, while the women return to play after the exam break this Sunday, December 18th, hosting Morgan State. Game time is 2:00pm and the game will be on ACCN Extra.