UVA’s backcourt continues to be the team’s strength
With perhaps the best point guard in basketball history and arguably the best point guard in UVA basketball history in attendance for tonight’s contest, Virginia’s pair of lead guards flourished. Each notching a few highlight reel plays that had Curry himself impressed, Clark scored 20 points, dished out five assists, and had a steal and a block while Beekman notched 11, seven, one and one as the pair continue to bolster their case as the best true backcourt in the ACC.
Meanwhile, the Wahoos’ leading scorer Armaan Franklin also maintained his streak of hot shooting as he went 6-9 from the floor, 2-3 from three, and scored 15 points. Franklin’s reliable production on offense has been a boon for the Cavaliers of late as he’s clearly found his groove in the team’s triangle/three-man offensive set.
The Ryan Dunn rise continues
After notching ACC career-highs in minutes (17) and points (9) in UVA’s road win against Florida State, Ryan Dunn was impressive once again tonight in 24 minutes of action. Flashing as a defensive small ball five in the first half, the true freshman finished with three points, three rebounds, three blocks, and two steals as he’s starting to establish that necessary consistency on either end that had kept him out of the game-to-game rotation.
On offense, Dunn picked his moments while intelligently moving the ball when the situation called for it. His big offensive rebound and and-one basket in the first half provided juice while he played well in the post against both Justyn Mutts and Grant Basile. Those were tough but well-suited matchups for Dunn and he displayed exactly how special of a defender he is and can be. A few more made shots would’ve made his performance look even better.
The athleticism and fluidity he brings to the floor on defense and the versatility he provides the defensive scheme are massive plusses. Continuing to track his rise this season is still critical in determining the squad’s potential and games like these only further emphasize how he’s heading in the right direction.
The Wahoos win with small ball again
As has been the trend in recent games, UVA continued to rely on small ball lineups as Ben Vander Plas, Jayden Gardner, and Ryan Dunn have earned the majority of the front-court minutes. BVP’s play at the five — while at times limiting defensively — has been huge offensively and he kept it up against the Hokies with 10 points, seven assists, and three assists. Bottom line, he’s been a difference maker in the team’s triangle offense as a play and shot maker.
Meanwhile, Gardner was lights out offensively against VT with 12 points on 5-6 shooting from the floor as he had the midrange game working and was a necessary release valve within the offense. He effectively punished the Hokies for giving him any sort of space on the interior. A couple of his post moves in particular looked like the Gardner of last season and such scoring from him only makes the offense that much more versatile.
Only four total minutes for pure centers raises defensive questions
UVA’s 1.28 points per possession on offense was the story of the night as the value in the team’s variety of scoring options was on full display. Unfortunately, Virginia Tech managed to further expose the weaknesses the defense can have without Kadin Shedrick on the floor as a rim protector and ball screen disruptor and put up 1.19 PPP themselves.
Tech runs really effective ball screen and dribble hand-off actions that can send even the best defenses scrambling. With Vander Plas at center or an (at times) over aggressive Dunn, the Hokies generated enough open threes (they went 12-27 for 44.4% on the night) to keep this one competitive.
While Mike Young’s squad lacks the true bigs that would’ve forced Bennett to play Shedrick or Francisco Caffaro for extended minutes, teams that have that and can similarly exploit the team’s lack of length and quickness at the center spot should prove dangerous down the line.
Everything is in front of Virginia right now
In my takeaways from the Florida State win, I noted how the ‘Hoos had (and have) a great shot at stretching together a big winning streak over the next month or so of ACC play with a number of mediocre or poor opponents. Such a winning streak could propel Virginia to a strong position in the ACC with a resurgent opportunity for a high seed come March.
Following Virginia’s ten-point win over VT and Clemson’s loss to Wake Forest the other night, the Cavaliers are one of four teams who are 6-2 in ACC play and sit a single game behind 7-1 Clemson in the race for the ACC Regular Season title. With a game against the Tigers at home on February 28th, UVA firmly controls its own destiny in that race. Additionally, five remaining games against ACC teams outside of the top-140 on KenPom provides reliable cushion for an extended run.
Undoubtedly, counting wins before they hatch is never smart particularly with how volatile the ACC has been this season. But the Wahoos are playing arguably their best basketball of the season right now and look to be on the right track for another high finish in the ACC.