Now having won six consecutive games, the Virginia Cavaliers took care of business against the Boston College Eagles as the team stemmed the tide of a few BC runs to take a dominant 76-57 victory. With the win, we have five takeaways.
UVA handles a bad team
The recent string of success for Tony Bennett’s squad has included a number of solid conference wins, but many have still been a bit too angsty for comfort’s sake. Against Boston College, while the Eagles kept the game close for the first 10 or so minutes and pulled the game within nine points in the second half, the Cavaliers’ experience and guard play persisted to pull out the relatively stress-free win.
Isaac McKneely’s 10 second half points, the calming presence of point guards Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman (who finished with seven points and six assists and 11 points and eight assists), and the continued scoring production from Armaan Franklin (18 points) all contributed in steadying the ship and maintaining the lead.
The ACC is by no means a juggernaut this season and BC is one of the weaker squads. But putting the Eagles away and closing out a 19-point victory is good to see, particularly considering that UVA is going to have a number of games against bad teams and will need to stay diligent for 40 minutes in order to avoid a bad Quad Four loss.
Ryan Dunn is a freak of nature
Each and every game he plays this season Ryan Dunn does something to further emphasize his ridiculous potential. In the first half against the Eagles, Dunn played just five minutes but had a put-back dunk off an Isaac McKneely missed three, an absurd alley oop, and a mind-boggling chase down block.
Playing 16 minutes, Dunn continues to flash on either end as his pump fake, baseline drive, and pull-up midrange jumper in the second half highlighted how his game goes beyond just moments of insane athleticism. He also continues to be a massive plus on the boards and as a help defender as his length in the passing lanes is disruptive and his shot-blocking can erase mistakes.
After detailing the importance of persistence and focus for player like Dunn, Bennett compared him to past Wahoos such as Akil Mitchel, Darion Atkins, De’Andre Hunter, Braxton Key, Justin Anderson, and Isaiah Wilkins and pointed to how “our defense has always been at its best when we’ve had an active, mobile, athletic forward that can switch a ball screen and do some things. So [Dunn] is starting to understand and embrace that and that’s been good.”
Undoubtedly, Dunn’s emergence as that athletic four continues to be an unexpected but critical development for the Wahoo defense. Should he keep getting more comfortable offensively, there’s no telling what his limit is, now or in the future.
Jayden Gardner can still provide a meaningful scoring boost
With the increased usage of Virginia’s small ball lineups, the team’s traditional front-court pairing of Gardner and Shedrick has lost out on minutes to the pair of Ben Vander Plas and Dunn. Similarly, within the Wahoos’ triangle offense, Gardner has taken a little while to establish himself as a scoring threat within the different scheme while he’s struggled to shoot the ball relative to last season.
But, against Boston College, Gardner put up 18 points on an efficient 8-12 from the floor as he helped to carry a UVA offense that uncharacteristically struggled to hit from beyond the three-point arc for most of the game. When he gets hot from the midrange, Gardner can be a really nice release valve for the offense and provide a rare sort of spacing on the interior.
Having him as another guy who can lead the team in scoring, depending on matchups, is further evidence of the multiplicity of this roster. Finding ways to keep him involved offensively will be important for the team’s long term success as will properly balancing the minutes for UVA’s collection of different front-court players.
The Quinten Post matchup creates early problems for UVA’s front-court
Boston College never looked to be the most formidable of opponents for UVA. The one ace in the hole, however, was center Quinten Post. The skilled big man scored 16 first half points. Despite three early turnovers, he punished Ben Vander Plas down low and then killed Francisco Caffaro from the perimeter.
While Post still finished with 24, he was far quieter in the second half as Vander Plas found ways to bother him with physicality on the inside and Shedrick provided a useful mix of mobility and size against the versatile big man.
That dynamic is incredibly relevant considering how much UVA’s been playing small with Vander Plas at the five. The team hasn’t truly been challenged by an opposing big since starting to rely on those small ball groups, so the balance of that lineup struggling to handle Post while Shedrick did well (despite fouling four times in 15 minutes, some of which were iffy calls) could be indicative of Virginia needing to use Shedrick more to match teams who have centers that can score.
The Shedrick-Dunn front-court is scary defensively
That being said, we got our first extended look at the combination of Dunn and Shedrick in the front-court and the defensive potential of that duo alongside a stout Wahoo backcourt. While the production on offense may be not the same as with either or both of Gardner and Vander Plas, the combined mobility, length, and disruptiveness of those two made life hard for the Eagles and should be an option for Tony Bennett to utilize against teams with firepower in the front-court.
After the win, Bennett emphasized the value of each of their length, saying that “they’re both long and obviously can block shots,” adding “that length is real and you want them to hopefully get on the offensive glass, the defensive glass and use their mobility and length. When you have quickness and length, as long as you’re holding your own offensively, that really can help defensively [to] cover some mistakes. That’s what I’ve seen from Kadin in the past and today and Ryan has started to do that too by coming to make a play out of nowhere.”
While Shedrick has struggled of late to limit fouls and produce on offense, perhaps the playing him alongside Dunn on defense could help to ease his defensive responsibilities and allow UVA to keep on mixing and matching the variety of bigs that they have. That lineup versatility is so, so valuable and adding to it at this point in the season is a sign of a team that continues to get better with time.