With UVA’s first top-25 win of the season, we’ve got five takeaways.
Virginia controls affairs against a top-15 team
The two games in Fort Myers weren’t the most inspiring performances for the ‘Hoos after a 4-0 start to the season. Losing by 24 points to a mediocre Wisconsin team and then needing the full 40 minutes to beat an undermanned and not very skilled West Virginia squad by two were a reality check for a young and inexperienced team.
Yet with that youth and lack of experience playing together also comes a boatload of elite talent. Despite playing against a team that’s arguably built to beat this iteration of the ‘Hoos, UVA controlled this game, especially in the second half.
After leading by a point coming out of the half, the Cavaliers outscored the Aggies 32-21, winning by 12 points and securing a momentum-building win before their first ACC game of the season on Saturday against Syracuse.
The non-conference schedule was always going to be an up-and-down affair for Virginia with only one starter and three rotational players coming back. But, against Texas A&M, the potential that this team has flashed. And the fact that it is so early in the season says a lot about how good this team can be come March.
Ryan Dunn clinches the win as a defender
On three straight defensive possessions late in the second half, Ryan Dunn essentially closed out the game for Virginia. He blocked three shots in 76 seconds from the 5:01 mark in the second half to 3:45 left and added a steal 44 seconds later. That helped produce a 3:17 scoring drought for the Aggies late in the game and maintained UVA’s double digit lead during Texas A&M’s last true chance to mount a comeback.
Dunn has us goin: ᕕ(⌐■_■)ᕗ ♪♬ pic.twitter.com/cuo4Sb32HH— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 30, 2023
Dunn finished the game with five blocks and three steals, along with 12 points, five defensive rebounds, and a 2-4 shooting performance from beyond the arc. He continues to be a quality complementary offensive player while being absolutely elite defensively. He changes the dynamic of games as a defender, and never more so in this one.
That’s a major benefit for this team, and him having that impact against a team that came in as the fifth most efficient offense in the country (per KenPom) is a sign that there’s no limit to his defensive dominance.
Elijah Gertrude burns his redshirt with Dante Harris out
After rolling his ankle in practice and it swelling up (according Tony Bennett) Georgetown transfer Dante Harris came onto the court before this game in a boot and using crutches. Meanwhile, true freshman Elijah Gertrude warmed up in full uniform despite having originally planned to redshirt this season.
Gertrude proceeded to play eight minutes, burning his redshirt, and showing off his athleticism. Following the game, Bennett mentioned that Gertrude playing was under consideration before Harris’ injury occurred with the true freshman fully recovering from his torn ACL last winter and wanting to play.
For however long Harris is out, this changes the dynamic in the UVA backcourt. From having four experienced college basketball guards and a true backup point guard for Reece Beekman, the ‘Hoos are down to three without a clear cut secondary primary creator. At the same time, Gertrude now being active gives the ‘Hoos more length and potentially more of a scoring presence in the backcourt.
Fundamentally, Gertrude is a higher ceiling, lower floor alternative to Harris. He’s an elite athlete at 6’3” with the potential to be a Reece Beekman sort of on-ball defender. He’s quick, lengthy, has great hands, absurd hops, and can block shots.
Offensively, he’s not the passer that Harris is and will be less of an initiator and more of a complementary contributor. Assuming Harris is back before too long like Bennett indicated, Gertrude gives the backcourt depth and a valuable different dimension.
UVA survives the Aggies’ onslaught of the boards
Virginia didn’t limit Texas A&M on the glass. Heck, they still got dominated with the Aggies rebounding 43.9% of their misses and scoring 16 points on those 18 opportunities.
Yet those 16 points were also only 34% of Texas A&M’s points, and UVA blocked eight shots en route to Buzz Williams’ team scoring just .758 points per possession. This defense is easily top-10 in the country no matter how many second chance opportunities they give up, largely because of their ability to block shots and create live ball turnovers. In fact, the Cavaliers registered eight steals and added 10 points off of turnovers.
However you slice it, elite defense is officially back in Charlottesville.
Andrew Rohde flashes as a creator
He didn’t have the most efficient night, one of his three triples banked in, and he coughed the ball up three times, but Andrew Rohde was Virginia’s leading scorer and played the most minutes for the ‘Hoos against the Aggies. He scored 13 points on 5-14 shooting from deep, 3-8 from deep. He added three assists and was a team-high +16 on the night.
hard to guard. pic.twitter.com/QGRzHmPZ8D— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 30, 2023
Rohde’s presence as another guy who can produce shots and good offense was critical especially after there was so little of that beyond Reece Beekman in Fort Myers. Rohde needs to be more efficient. But, bottom line, he put points on the board as a passer, shooter, and driver, and that’s what this team needs particularly with Beekman limited with a knee injury.
As he gets more comfortable with this level of college basketball and figures out what he can and can’t do, Rohde will get smoother. The flashes are there though, and that’s what matters at this point in the season.