Whew baby. What a win that was on Tuesday night for the Virginia Cavaliers as UVA took down the Michigan Wolverines in a heavyweight battle. Despite being down 11 points at halftime, Tony Bennett’s team stormed back early in the second half and then made enough plays late in the game to advance to 6-0 on the season.
Along with our five takeaways from the victory, we’re doing another winners, losers, and I don’t knows piece to analyze the individual performers in the win and the elements of the team’s performance that deserve a deeper dive. As a preface, this is not calling any UVA players “losers” in any sense outside of their individual performance in the Michigan win. This is simply a stock up, stock down, stock uncertain analysis of Tuesday’s performances.
Easy one off the bat. Picking up what will most likely be a third Quad 1 win, the Wahoos are on a roll right now and have passed every test so far with flying colors. Going into Ann Arbor and dealing with such a tough environment, a physical battle, and an opponent that was amped up and shooting well is a sign of a very good basketball team. Now, the ‘Hoos open up ACC play on Saturday against the Florida State Seminoles before a rematch with James Madison on Tuesday. If they win those two contests, they’ll head into the eleven day exam break 8-0 with #1 Houston coming to town on December 17th.
Went into detail on Beekman in the five takeaways piece, but I really can’t say enough about how much better he’s gotten since last season. It’s really the little things. His experience is showing through in all the subtle but necessary ways for a lead guard in the Bennett system. Her’s making plays in every aspect of the game and is the wind beneath Virginia’s wings. If only we’d been able to see him healthy for all of the 38 minutes he played against Michigan.
Ben Vander Plas
I’ll admit to skepticism about what Vander Plas would be able to do for this team when he initially transferred to UVA. I remember thinking/writing things along the lines of him raising the team’s floor but not its ceiling. And, while he definitely raises the team’s floor by providing depth and some great versatility, I did not expect him to be THIS good. He went on his own 7-0 run against the Wolverines, put his back to the basket post game on full display (where did that come from???), and was able to handle the much bigger Dickinson in the paint.
He’s been an absolutely stellar addition to this squad and an argument could be made for his transfer being the biggest difference between this year’s team and last season’s.
Despite only playing 22 minutes and fouling out late in the second half, Shedrick had a considerable positive impact on this game despite getting hit with a number of iffy foul calls. Still, though, his 12 points off 5-6 shooting including an early three-pointer helped to set the tone for the UVA offense early in both halves. His 4-4 finishing at the rim was impressive particularly against Michigan’s size while his on-ball defense on Hunter Dickinson and pair of steals helped to limit what the Wolverines could do offensively.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Shedrick is in a category of his own on this roster, especially as a big man. His mobility as a defender and ability to hard hedge ball screens, recover, defend well in the post with length and physicality, and help off-ball as a shot blocker all mean that his presence changes the equation for the Wahoo defense when he is on the floor. That was never more on display than against Michigan.
He’s also getting more complete offensively and, while the presence of Ben Vander Plas and Jayden Gardner mean that he isn’t Virginia’s only option to provide offensive punch in the front-court, his strengths as a rim-runner, as a screener, and honestly even as a passer mean that UVA is a different offense with him on or off the floor. The BVP-Gardner small ball pairing means that Shedrick’s absence on the floor isn’t typically a huge problem, but his development into a complete UVA center on either end adds to this team’s ceiling and its meaningful lineup versatility.
There were questions regarding whether or not Clark’s return for a fifth season would benefit or hinder the program. Through six games this season, it’s exceedingly obvious that him coming back for year five has been an absolute boon for this squad. His role as a secondary creator for the offense who can put points on the board, a second lead guard to help run the offense, and a disruptive on-ball defender is proving critical especially considering how the depth at the guard position behind him, Beekman, and Armaan Franklin hasn’t been entirely impressive.
Kihei’s 16 points, four assist, and 7-8 free throw shooting performance against Michigan was evidence of how he’s succeeded alongside Beekman in the backcourt this season and how, when he picks his spots offensively, he can be very efficient. Defensively, while his lack of size can sometimes be a slight detriment in rotations and when closing out, his on-ball pressure continues to be quite valuable.
UVA’s small ball lineup
After the lineup of Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner, and Vander Plas sparked the run at the end of Virginia’s Illinois win, we got our first look at how good that group could be, even on defense. Following this result, that conclusion was only additionally justified, With Shedrick dealing with foul trouble and Caffaro not being able to handle guarding Hunter Dickinson, the BVP-Gardner combination did particularly well defending the Wolverines, especially in the second half. Vander Plas, surprisingly so, had the sufficient size and strength to contain Dickinson while the pairing of him with Gardner on offense continues to give opponents trouble.
The three combinations in the front-court which include Gardner, Shedrick, and BVP all have their benefits. But the manner in which the small ball lineup has succeeded against top notch competition in crunch time is a great sign and points to it likely being UVA’s closing lineup this season.
Again, I’ll emphasize that I am not calling the players listed here losers, nor do I think any of them are.
Womp womp. Wolverines took the L. They’re definitely a good team and should be able to pick up some quality wins in a BIG10 that has some heavyweights at the top. Still a limited roster that needs to get hot to compete with the best of the best, but a good team nonetheless.
Man, it’s hard to rewatch that game and not come to the conclusion that Dickinson is a dirty player. He was hooking and holding constantly, randomly shoved Reece Beekman at one point, made a number of Grayson Allen-esque pushes throughout the game, and nearly caved Shedrick’s face in with a violent left elbow that somehow was called a foul on Shedrick. Very good player, but he couldn’t get it done against the Wahoos even when playing in a morally questionable manner.
Love Armaan and he’s going to be a huge, huge part of this team moving forward. But, unfortunately, after averaging 18.3 points per game and shooting 52.9% from deep in the first three games of the season, he’s scored just 5.3 points per contest while shooting 18.1% from beyond the arc in the last three outings. He also missed a pair of free throws in the final ten seconds against Michigan that gave the Wolverines a chance to win or tie the game when he could’ve made it a two-possession game.
Again, he’ll undoubtedly bounce back. That said, considering how consistency is such a key for him, it’d be great to see him string solid performances together for five to ten games at a time without going quiet for too long. Granted, that’s part of how balanced this team is among the top six guys. But, still, more ought to be expected of him.
Again, Papi will have his moments this season. But Tuesday definitely wasn’t one of those days. In four minutes he had three fouls. one turnover, and went 0-1 from the field. It wasn’t his game and that’s perfectly fine. But, man, that’s kinda hard to do. Caffaro is still a fun player to watch, though, and he was up against it versus Dickinson and a Michigan defense that forced him to do more than he’s comfortable doing on the offensive side of the ball.
Virginia’s free throw shooting
Despite Michigan not getting called for a foul until late in the first half, UVA still attempted 19 free throws against the Wolverines on Tuesday. Getting to the line continues to be a strength of the offense (even if six of the free throws came in the last minute when the ‘Hoos were leading), but the team has to make more of those opportunities. UVA shot 12-19 (63.2%) from the line on the night. The Cavaliers’ 72.3% success rate at the charity stripe is 125th in the country which, especially considering the number of shooters on this team, ain’t great.
I have a feeling the issue will fix itself but, if there’s something to criticize about Virginia’s otherwise superb late game execution, it’s the lack of assured success when fouled.
I don’t knows
Gardner hit the go-ahead basket for UVA with 40 seconds left and recorded a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double and even had a whopping three steals. As such, I was going to stick him firmly in the winners column, but his 6-15 shooting on the night including 4-9 from midrange and 2-6 from the rim means that he ends up as the first of the I don’t knows. Some of that middling shooting from the midrange is just a matter of luck, but he’s simply been less efficient from that area of the floor this year and, with Beekman getting hurt in the second half, the offense needed a boost from Gardner.
In the end, he made the shot that mattered most and made plenty of plays along the way that significantly contributed to this win. Ideally, he’ll knock down a few more of those opportunities particularly against teams that don’t have quite as much size as Michigan.
Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn
I wasn’t sure whether to put these guys in the loser or I don’t know category, but it felt harsh to put two freshmen in game six of their college careers in the loser category simply for not making enough of a positive impact. Nevertheless, neither has yet proven themselves capable of performing against top-tier competition. That’s fine, for now, but it would be a nice luxury to be able to go seven or eight deep in the rotation and have one or both of these two make a difference for UVA this season.
In terms of what each can do to make that happen, McKneely definitely needs to be more purposeful in getting his shot off. He seemed to be sort of going through the motions in the mover-blocker offense against Michigan, and that’s not enough because his value for this team is as a knockdown shooter. Meanwhile, Dunn’s potential impact comes on the other side of the floor as Virginia’s best chance at having an elite wing defender this season. If he can come on the floor and provide much needed length on defense while making the occasional offensive play when asked to, he still has a great shot at carving out a meaningful role with this squad.
In tune with the tale of two halves which was UVA’s defense against Michigan on Tuesday, the Virginia defense has established a bit of a pattern of inconsistency this season. In necessary moments, the Wahoos can flip a switch and stop opponents for meaningful spans of time. But, at other points, the floodgates open. In fact, the ‘Hoos are actually 335th in the country in preventing opponent high-quality threes per ShotQuality.
Of course, Michigan was a tough opponent to defend, particularly in the first half when Jett Howard and company shot 7-13 from deep while Dickinson went 7/10 from the floor for 14 points. Fortunately for the Wahoo faithful, UVA both battened down the hatches and Michigan started missing (1-6 from three in the second half). The development of Vander Plas’ ability as a post defender was important while the disruption caused by Beekman and Clark on the perimeter made life easier.
The defense certainly isn’t a concern for this group. That said, the staff will be hoping for more relentless output on that end as we edge closer towards ACC play. Do that and this team becomes that much more difficult to defeat.