Advancing to 4-0, the Virginia Cavaliers took care of the Texas Southern Tigers in a sloppy but eventually dominant win on Thursday night. As this is UVA’s last warm up game before the Fort Myers tipoff next week and then a pair of home games against Texas A&M and Syracuse, we have five takeaways for the ‘Hoos before their toughest stretch of the schedule yet.
Ryann Dunn is so gone to the NBA Draft
Listen, I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer by saying this. But Ryan Dunn is an NBA talent right now purely based on how elite of a defensive player he is. And he can make some pretty nice plays in transition too.
With a weak 2024 NBA Draft class, Dunn is only continuing to solidify himself as a legitimate first rounder.
Draft talk aside, Dunn’s impact for UVA this year could very well be greater than any other non-center defender in college basketball. He is absolutely everywhere defensively and he is a true mistake-eraser.
And, yes it was against Texas Southern, but Dunn also led Virginia in scoring with 15 points including an 8-9 outing from the free throw line and a 1-3 performance from beyond the arc. What’s going to get him drafted isn’t going to be his offensive impact. But his raw athleticism and ability to create offense as a result is a floor-raising perk for Virginia especially on a night when the backcourt struggled to score the ball.
Isaac McKneely’s absence is noticeable offensively
After hurting his left ankle against NC A&T on Tuesday, sophomore guard Isaac McKneely missed Thursday night’s win over Texas Southern, and the ‘Hoos absolutely felt his absence. Virginia shot 5-16 from deep (31.3%) against the Tigers, and the offense generally looked more sluggish with Dante Harris inserted into the starting lineup.
Virginia also scored 1.089 points per possession in its fourth win of the season, the worst of their season thus far. That’s not only due to McKneely’s absence. But his raw magnetism as a shooter and the easy points he provides within UVA’s motion offenses were missed in this one.
Assuming McKneely is back against Wisconsin on Monday as he’s wearing a small boot, this will be a short-lived concern for the moment. Yet it does indicate how reliant UVA is on his shooting, and the reality that there isn’t that much depth in this backcourt beyond the top four of him, Beekman, Dante Harris, and Andrew Rohde.
Virginia defense dominates with its length
UVA finished this game with 10 blocks and 13 steals. Reece Beekman logged three and four. The aforementioned Dunn had four and three. Blake Buchanan had three and one. Leon Bond had three steals.
*another Blake Blockanan moment for your feed* pic.twitter.com/Iya6FZGtox— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 17, 2023
There are holes on this roster and issues that are going to hurt them on either end of the ball at times this season.
But goodness gracious this team has elite defensive athleticism. Beekman, Dunn, Buchanan, Bond, and Dante Harris are all truly plus athletes, and the plays they make on defense are unlike any other team that Tony Bennett’s coach in Charlottesville. Where they lack some true size in the frontcourt, they more than make up for with playmakers who can end possessions and create transition opportunities.
The free throw bugaboo is becoming less of a thing
After UVA shot 60.3% from the line in the first two games of the season, the ‘Hoos have gone 72.9% over the past two contests. Dunn in particular shooting 8-9 at the charity stripe against the Tigers was good to see for a career 58.3% free throw shooter coming into this game. He’s going to be one of UVA’s most frequent free throw shooters, so him getting more comfortable there is a valuable development for UVA’s team-wide free throw success this season.
This was your typical sloppy mid-week November non-conference win
The Wahoos turned the ball over 11 times, allowed 13 offensive rebounds, played a fairly wonky offensive game, and still won by 29 points (and covered the 23.5 point spread). Yes, Texas Southern is nothing special, and this was always expected to be a blowout. But I’m personally choosing to attribute more of the sloppiness to this being the team’s second game in three days, them being without a starter, and this being the last mid-major matchup ahead of four consecutive contests against major conference schools.
On the struggles on the defensive boards, it’s worth noting that part of the downside of having a frontcourt which can block shots at a high level and subsequently chases blocks is leaving the backside open when a shot doesn’t get blocked. And, for what it’s worth, Texas Southern scored a mere three second chance looks. So even when they created extra opportunities, UVA locked things down.
Games like this are hard to take a lot away from. But this was one of those must wins in the doldrums of basketball season that nobody will remember, yet that will still be fundamental building blocks for a young roster that is in need of playing time together.