In dominant fashion, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball opened its 2023-2024 season with a 80-50 win over the Tarleton State Texans. With the win, we have five takeaways for the Wahoos moving forward.
Reece Beekman is as expected
Breaking news: Reece Beekman is good at basketball. In a shocking development, Beekman was the best player on the floor against Tarleton State, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points (5-9 from the field, 0-3 from three, 6-7 from the line), seven assists, three steals, four rebounds, one block, zero turnovers, and a tidy +34 in 27 minutes.
Beekman was a man amongst boys on the floor against the Texans, and while that was to be expected, that doesn’t make it any less notable. He’s a bonafide ACC Player of the Year contender and a 2024 NBA first round draft pick.
Importantly, Beekman was the straw for UVA’s offensive drink in game one. He took the ball to the hoop himself when need be, most memorably to close the first half, but also continued to spread the love as a passer, especially on the perimeter. In fact, six of his seven assists were for threes as he showed just what he can do as a point guard with shooters around him.
This team can shoot
Fair warning that this was probably a takeaway from a few November games last season before shooting doomed UVA late in the season. But through 40 minutes of this season, this group consists of some certified flamethrowers that shot 45.5% from beyond the arc against Tarleton State. Isaac McKneely (15 points, 4-8 from the field, 4-8 from three) is the most obvious one and he’ll be the one real volume shooter for the ‘Hoos this season and he delivered in game one.
In fact, McKneely came out firing with two made triples in the first four minutes of play, and he kept it going as the game progressed. He also was solid as a creator for his teammates, registering four assists in 29 minutes. He didn’t make many plays for himself off the dribble (evidenced by his zero 2-point field goal attempts). But he pushed when there were plays to be made and punished the Texans when they gave him space on the perimeter.
Jake Groves was as advertised in his Virginia debut, scoring nine points and shooting 3-4 from deep. He got beat a few times defensively and wasn’t as sound on the defensive boards as Tony Bennett probably would’ve liked. Yet that’s acceptable when his deep balls fall at a 75% clip. Andrew Rohde’s shot (2-5 from three) looked smooth as well, and he appeared comfortable when catching and shooting from deep, something he didn’t do much of as a freshman at St. Thomas.
Let's tonight! pic.twitter.com/dKFViX5jC5— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 7, 2023
Those three in UVA’s starting lineup make for a respectable set of shooters, and Reece Beekman (0-3) and Ryan Dunn (1-2) should be able to join in on the fun on a lower volume. Frankly it’s refreshing to have all five starters be capable outside shooters, and the ability to play those guys together should pay off down the line.
Blake Buchanan is UVA’s best defensive center prospect in years
In my 10 bold predictions for Virginia this season, I predicted that Blake Buchanan would be UVA’s best true big this season out of him, Jake Groves, and Jordan Minor. Groves’ shooting performance probably edged him ahead of Buchanan in their respective Virginia debuts. But Buchanan looked so comfortable out there and made very few freshman mistakes.
Now, this was against Tarleton State, an outmatched opponent who lacks size and hardly ever runs any real ball screens. So there are far, far stiffer tests for Buchanan as the season progresses. And both Minor and especially Groves will continue to have their moments. But Buchanan looked the best of the three of them on defense in the season opener.
The Idaho native’s stat-line wasn’t particularly flashy with one point including a 1-4 performance at the free throw line. Yet that’s hardly the important part of his performance. He slid well against Tarleton State’s motion and only committed two fouls in 17 minutes despite the fact that the Texans didn’t play anyone taller than 6’6”.
The offensive production will come as he gets more comfortable. And eventually he’ll need to be an even more prominent presence on the glass — he had four defensive rebounds against the Texans. But, particularly when grading on the curve of freshman centers at Virginia, he passed test numero uno with flying colors.
Leon Bond the third (!!!)
12 points (4-5 shooting), nine rebounds (five offensive), and two steals in 17 minutes.
Need I say more?
The redshirt freshman wing looked absurdly comfortable in his career debut, and made a number of absurd highlight plays in the process.
(⌐■_■)— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 7, 2023
(•_•) W O A H pic.twitter.com/bvBKH5hkmX
Bond’s activity on the offensive boards was a sight to see, and he just made plays all over the floor. At 6’5”, he’s undersized for a forward, but he makes up for it with tremendous effort, a limitless motor, plus athleticism, and a level of smoothness that belies his redshirt freshman eligibility status.
The Wisconsin native will be a Swiss Army Knife in UVA’s rotation this season, and it’s really nice to have a player like that who can make an impact without needing the ball in his hands.
Tony Bennett is still experimenting with lineups
Logically so for a team that had six scholarship players make their Virginia debut in this game the staff experimented with a lot of different lineups. We got a Groves-Buchanan combo in the frontcourt, a Dunn-Bond combo, and everything in between. Yes, it was a blowout, but 10 players played double digit minutes, and all got there before Bennett sent the walk-ons in.
This was a commanding win from start to finish, and that’s encouraging considering just how new this team is. Part of what’s so intriguing about this team is how versatile the lineups can be. Where they may be lacking in true size and strength down low they make up for it with a variety of skillsets in the backcourt and on the wing.
How that plays out should be really fun to watch. The 2023-2024 Virginia team is one built to get better as the season progresses, but there’s not too too much to nit-pick (cough free throw shooting) in the season opener.