The Virginia Cavaliers pulled out a narrow 73-70 victory against their first legitimate competition of the season, a talented and athletic Florida squad. Reece Beekman’s last-minute steal iced the game for the ‘Hoos, but the story of the game was true freshman Blake Buchanan’s breakout performance: the Idaho product put up 18 points and seven rebounds in his second career game.
Here’s how our view of Virginia’s major contributors changed following the big win:
(A note on these stock up/stock down columns: players are graded relative to expectations entering the game, not on an overall good/bad scale. The threshold for Reece Beekman’s stock to go up is high, for example, because he’s already expected to perform well every game. But a surprisingly strong performance from a bench player will always earn a “stock up” grade).
The key takeaway from this game has to be Blake Buchanan’s breakout. True freshmen centers in the Bennett system just don’t play 27 minutes against high-level opponents in their second career game — but Buchanan absolutely deserved the increased role. After an ugly first four minutes featuring 14 points in the paint for Florida, Bennett pulled Jake Groves for Buchanan; the Cavaliers allowed just four points in the paint for the remainder of the half.
Outside of his immense impact on defense and the glass, Buchanan also produced far more offense than in the season opener against Tarleton State. He constantly found himself on the receiving end of passes around the basket or snagging crucial offensive boards, finishing with 18 points on just seven shots and adding five offensive rebounds. His aggressiveness around the basket resulted in plenty of foul calls against Florida, including a crucial fifth foul on center Micah Handlogten. In all, Buchanan shot an incredible 16 free throws and made 10, which certainly feels like a Bennett-era record for a freshman big. He may not start going forward, but Buchanan should finish games; his skillset as an athletic big adds a vital dynamic for the Cavaliers.
Blake Buchanan in his 2nd career CBB game:— Zach Carey (@Zach_Carey_) November 11, 2023
18 points (led team)
THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED: pic.twitter.com/77IsOXv4ro
Beekman totally disappeared offensively for a pretty significant stretch of this game, but a strong first-half run resulted in decent enough counting stats for the team’s primary ball handler: 13 points and five assists (a number which could’ve been higher if some of his dimes to Blake Buchanan resulted in buckets rather than free throws).
The efficiency wasn’t great — 3-9 inside the arc is a concern for a slashing guard, and Reece also shot an uncharacteristically poor 1-4 from the free throw line. However, it was nice to see Beekman knock down two confident open threes in the first half. He also gets credit here for remaining an absolute defensive menace, recording four steals including the game-winning takeaway from Walter Clayton Jr. on Florida’s final possession of the game. How many guards have multiple game-winning threes (against ACC rivals Syracuse and Duke, to boot) and close the game out on the defensive end as often as Beekman?!
It was literally a tale of two halves for Jake Groves: the transfer big from Oklahoma got roasted defensively in the first four minutes of the game, resulting in Tony Bennett giving him the quick hook in favor of the aforementioned Buchanan. However, Groves went on a crucial 10-point scoring run in the second half buoyed by two big catch-and-shoot threes and a hook shot to extend Virginia’s lead to 11.
♨️ found the hot hand ♨️ pic.twitter.com/HIetyob6VA— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 11, 2023
Let’s just hope he doesn’t try to imitate Ryan Dunn’s fastbreak dunk and miss a wide open fast-break finish again this season.
The coaching staff’s placed a lot of trust in Rohde to start the season, even if he’s yet to break out offensively and showcase why he averaged 17 points per game at St. Thomas one season ago. While his offensive game remains limited to basically spot-up threes or open blocker-mover looks, Rohde’s performance in the pack line has been admirable. It would be nice if he looked a bit more comfortable dribbling the ball going forward — Virginia’s susceptible to the press if he continues to look timid bringing the ball up the floor.
Dunn’s defense will always be a plus, and his placement here has nothing to do with the six steals the second-year forward recorded against Florida. His effort on the defensive glass also kept the Cavaliers from being totally dominated by an oversized opposing frontcourt. But the offense simply has to be better going forward from a player expected to take a major step as a scorer. Dunn attempted just seven field goals in 33 minutes and looked unassertive in possession, especially after he air-balled an open corner three.
No one is questioning the defensive impact Dunn brings on a nightly basis. But Virginia needs more than five made baskets in two games from their most athletic wing.
Harris shone in the first half, recording an efficient six points on 3-3 from the field and adding two assists and two steals to round out a quality backup guard outing. He didn’t add anything in the second half, where Florida’s length bothered Harris more than in the first, but as an instant-offense bench option Harris filled his role as well as could be expected.
McKneely struggled to find open looks for most of the night, and his athleticism and inability to get to the rim will remain an issue against high-level competition. He needs to be more assertive searching for his own shot coming off blocker-mover screens; those catch-and-shoot looks will be his bread and butter. I-Mac played his way back into the flow of the offense late, but failed to add major contributions.
There were certainly positive moments for McKneely, most notably a big pull-up jumper to give the Cavaliers a two-point lead late in the game. He finished with a somewhat respectable nine points on 3-10 shooting (2-4 from three) and held up well defensively against some tough assignments. However, McKneely must hunt his own shot more consistently going forward — for someone with his jump shooting talent, it’s a necessity.
Relative to preseason expectations, Bond’s bench role is about what one would’ve expected from the redshirt freshman. But after an apparent breakout in the season opener, it was disappointing to see Bond only play four minutes — including zero in the second half — and score just two points off an awkward tip-in. It’s a long season, and Bond will play a larger role as he grows into the system, but this game was a tough reality check after an incredible debut.
Taine Murray and Jordan Minor
In Virginia’s first game against serious competition (sorry, Tarleton State), both Murray and Minor weren’t a part of Tony Bennett’s eight-man rotation; the bench shortened to Blake Buchanan, Leon Bond, and Dante Harris. After Minor didn’t play until the under-4 timeout and Murray didn’t enter until the second half in the season opener this seemed like a possibility, but it’s still a bit surprising to find Minor in particular out of the rotation.
After the officials made an (admittedly bad) decision to give Virginia a late out of bounds call, Alexander — the ACC Network color commentator — told them to take another look at the play. The call was ultimately overturned, and Tony Bennett was as angry as I’ve ever seen him on the sideline at Alexander. Sure, Cory was right, but that doesn’t mean you need to correct the refs from the broadcast booth at the expense of your alma mater
I’m kidding — mostly.