After a wobbly tournament performance during Thanksgiving week, the needle is once again pointed firmly upward on this Virginia Cavaliers roster following a 59-47 victory over Texas A&M. Propelled by a dominant defensive effort against one of the nation’s most efficent offenses, the Cavaliers controlled the game from the opening tip and notched their best win of the season in their inaugural ACC-SEC Challenge matchup.
The “Stifling” Award: Virginia’s team defense
The Cavaliers held a Texas A&M offense ranked in KenPom’s top 10 for offensive efficiency to a meager 47 points. Pace factors a bit into this number, but the Aggies hadn’t scored below 73 points in a game all season — Virginia slowed them to 26 points below that previous season low. Things didn’t look comfortable for the A&M offense all night, as Reece Beekman and Virginia’s other perimeter defenders prevented the dribble-drive creation which typically keeps Buzz Williams’s offense flowing.
Sure, A&M entered the game a little bit banged up. But you can only play the team that’s in front of you, and holding an elite SEC offense to only 30% from the field and 17% from three requires a really strong performance. With Beekman and Ryan Dunn making plays and everyone else filling their role in the pack line, Tony Bennett might have one of his classic shutdown defenses on his hands for the first time in quite a few seasons.
The “Do-It-All” Award: Reece Beekman
Everything Virginia does on both ends of the floor depends on Reece Beekman. Offensively, he’s the straw that stirs the drink so that other secondary creators or finishers can knock down their open shots; his advantage creation off the dribble set up quite a few open threes for Isaac McKneely and Jake Groves tonight. Beekman also effectively worked his way to the basket, finishing with 12 points off of mostly dribble-drives and free throws. Outside of the box score, he was Virginia’s only reliable ball handler against the Buzz Williams press and navigated ball pressure all game while recording just one turnover.
On defense, he picked up the shifty Wade Taylor IV, A&M’s star lead guard who’d averaged 24 points per game over his last three contests. Beekman shut Taylor down all night long, holding him to nine points on 2-10 shooting (including a few airballs, much to the delight of the JPJ crowd). He also kept Taylor IV from initiating easy offense for A&M’s bigs, forcing five turnovers from the ball-handler while recording three steals and two blocks.
The “Timely Threes” Award: Andrew Rohde
Rohde looked more comfortable shooting the ball against Texas A&M than any other team this season, finishing with a high in field goal attempts (14) including eight threes. Just 13 points on 14 shots isn’t the most efficient night, but it’s good to see Rohde hunt his own shot more against a lengthy and challenging SEC defense. Two of his three-point makes were incredibly timely, including a movement bank shot which gave the Cavaliers a nine-point lead out of the halftime break which they would never relinquish.
. JPJ right now:— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 30, 2023
The “Defensive Menace” Award: Ryan Dunn
Ryan Dunn has turned ridiculous defensive statlines into a daily occurrence. Tonight, while playing almost the entire game and taking on a variety of assignments from quick wings to bruiser Henry Coleman, Dunn recorded five blocks and three steals. Three of those blocks came in one 74-second span near the end of the second half as Dunn put a stop to any hopes for an A&M comeback with back-to-back-to-back volleyball spikes on attempted layups. Twelve points, including two made threes and an impressive slam, were a nice addition from Dunn — but his defensive playmaking ability may be second to none in the NCAA.
Dunn has us goin: ᕕ(⌐■_■)ᕗ ♪♬ pic.twitter.com/cuo4Sb32HH— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 30, 2023
The “Playing This Season!” Award: Elijah Gertrude
A rolled ankle in practice left Dante Harris on the bench in a boot and crutches and opened up a gaping hole for the Cavaliers at backup guard — a void which true freshman Elijah Gertrude, who previously appeared to be redshirting this season, stepped in to fill. Gertrude showed some freshman jitters on the offensive end, air-balling a corner three for his only shot attempt in eight minutes of game time, but displayed his game-breaking athleticism with a beautiful block on defense. Hopefully he stays in the rotation once Harris returns and gets a chance to acclimate to college basketball, because the potential is obvious.
The “Invisible” Award: Virginia’s bench
The combined numbers for Virginia’s bench today:
- 30 minutes
- Zero points (0-4 shooting, 0-1 from three)
- Four rebounds
- One assist
It’s okay to lean on a strong starting five — if you’re not playing your best players, you’re probably doing something wrong. But in the absence of Dante Harris, the bench did pretty much nothing all game long. The ACC season is a grind, and the Cavaliers will need more production from their role players moving forward.
The “Who Knows” Award: Virginia’s frontcourt rotation
Tony Bennett continues to rotate players in the frontcourt, relying heavily on Jake Groves (32 minutes) to hold down the center position tonight while relegating Blake Buchanan (six minutes) to a minor role. After a really strong start to the year, Buchanan’s role has steadily declined as of late.
KenPom’s minutes matrix does a great job of illustrating the moving pieces in the frontcourt. For right now, the expectation should be a heavy dose of Ryan Dunn at the four and Groves at the 5 with Buchanan backing him up. But as we’ve seen from the recent lineup experimentation, that’s absolutely subject to change.
The “Electric” Award: John Paul Jones Arena ⚡
Some of this is certainly subjective, but it felt like the home crowd hadn’t brought the energy like this since last year’s tight victory over Duke. The fans got into it early thanks to an early 8-2 run and an air-balled three by Wade Taylor IV. “Air-ball” chants followed Taylor all game long and the energy remained high throughout, concluding with “A-C-C” chants as time expired in the inaugural ACC-SEC challenge game for the Cavaliers. More of that, please.
The “Still a Power 5 Conference” Award: The ACC
Speaking of that ACC-SEC challenge: how about the ACC? Today, the Cavaliers handily defeated a ranked Texas A&M projected to finish in the upper echelon of the conference. The Tar Heels put up 100 points on a vaunted Tennessee defense en route to an eight-point victory of their own. And even Wake Forest pulled off a second-half comeback, outscoring Florida 50-35 in the period for their own 82-71 victory. Outside of Miami’s letdown against Kentucky yesterday, the ACC’s certainly defended itself well against the “worse than the Mountain West” allegations in the event so far.
The “Get Off The Court” Award: Buzz Williams
The former Marquette and Virginia Tech coach has certainly done a good job building a winner down in College Station, and this isn’t a knock against his coaching ability. But his standing out on the court has become almost a parody of itself with how far out onto the court Buzz is every single possession. Early in the game, he stood in the passing lanes for the Cavaliers on more than one occasion. I mean, at least give him a token technical once a game if he’s going to pull shenanigans like this on the regular: