This past Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team improved to 7-0 by taking down the Florida State Seminoles, 62-57. Despite the fact that the ‘Hoos won the game, most of us were left underwhelmed given their roaring start to the season, the Seminoles’ exact opposite trend, and the fact that UVA never truly pulled away from an inferior opponent.
Shot Quality quantifies the expected value of each shot taken throughout a game based on a number of factors. The model indicates that UVA “should” have lost to FSU, 72-70. The 1-9 Noles have an expected record of just 4-6 so, while they have obviously underperformed, they are still a bad team in every measure. A win is a win, but there are still issues that this team needs to correct to be a more complete team across a 30+ game season.
Problems defending the three point line are a concern
Tony Bennett has made various adjustments to his Pack Line defense over the years based on his personnel. In spurts over the previous few seasons, we have seen the ‘Hoos decide not to utilize post double teams and even the hard hedge. This season, Bennett has emphasized both of these principles but it has led to one issue in particular: difficulty defending the perimeter.
Particularly, per usual, teams who can space the floor and move the ball give the Virginia defense trouble. The Seminoles generated open three-pointers but were not able to capitalize at a high rate. However, a more capable team like Michigan took greater advantage. The Wolverines shot over 42% from beyond the arc against UVA because of their ability to spread the floor. Center Hunter Dickinson required tons of attention in the post, which often left the Virginia defense scrambling and closing out late on shooters.
Overall this season, the ‘Hoos have given up open threes at a rate of 54%, which is 352nd in the country. Some teams have taken advantage of it more than others but that is very uncharacteristic for a Bennett team. They will need to be crisper with rotations and their ability to recover after defending ball screens so aggressively.
Scoring droughts will still happen, but that’s okay
In the Florida State game, and a few other instances throughout the season, Virginia went several minutes at a time without a field goal. Although Bennett’s team has generally been good in terms of shot selection, the offensive struggles were clear against FSU. They failed to generate quality three-point attempts against the length of FSU. Leonard Hamilton’s Noles have always caused problems for the mover-blocker scheme because they can switch one through five.
This trend in particular does not worry me too much though. Offense will always come and go with Virginia’s style of basketball. Even in the national championship season and throughout their tournament run, the ‘Hoos endured scoring droughts. The difference was they were able to rely on their defense to make stops and prevent a drastic scoring run for the opponent.
Plus, UVA does have players that can put the ball on the deck and penetrate versus switching defenses like Florida State. But, with Reece Beekman’s ankle injury suffered versus Michigan hindering him on Saturday, Virginia lost its best slasher. Otherwise, that game could have gone quite differently.
The Bottom Line
This Florida State game allowed the ‘Hoos to realize areas of improvement without the punishment of what would’ve been a bad loss. This team has as high of a ceiling as anybody but, as is to be expected in early December, they’ve still got areas to improve on in order to limit the variance in results when they play well versus when they don’t.