The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball teams comes out of their exam break ranked in the top-25 in both polls for the first time this season. They get one tune-up before their first true road test against a solid Memphis team. But this game is Northeastern, who are ranked 211th on KenPom and are 0-4 against KenPom top-200 teams.
These two schools have played once before, back in 1989. That was part of the Virginia Tipoff Tournament (which was apparently a thing). Virginia rolled 82-60 led by 23 points from Bryant Stith.
Virginia figures to control this one, as they have all of the “lower” teams they’ve faced this season. With that mind, let’s talk about five things to watch for in this game.
Game Time: Saturday, December 16, 6PM Eastern
1. Three Point Shooting
Isaac McKneely has been getting a lot of love during the exam break, and rightly so. The sophomore sharpshooter scored the first 12 points of the Wahoos last game, shooting 4-4 from downtown. He has made 12/16 from downtown over the past two games, which is insane. If he did that playing at the Dell (does that still exist? I don’t even know*), that would be impressive. Doing it against Syracuse is ridiculous. McKneely is making 58% of his threes so far. That is 8th in the nation, and it is also insane that 7 guys are above that.
This has got to give opposing head coaches nightmares. Dunn with the steal, leading to a 3-on-2 break. If the defender commits to McKneely on the wing, Dunn has a dunk. But McKneely is too good a shooter to miss a rhythm jumper like that. That isn’t luck, that is by design. McKneely goes to a spot and Dunn gives him the ball at the perfect time. Gorgeous.
McKneely is 6/9 this season on transition threes. More insanity.
2. Offensive Rebounds
The past two games were far better for the Wahoos on the defensive glass, as the Hoos actually won the rebounding battle in both games. Syracuse is a real team with size and Virginia controlled the glass (shooting 60% from the floor helps).
This will be a good test, as the Huskies hit the offensive glass hard. They are 65th in offensive rebounding rate. In each of their two top-100 games (per KenPom), they grabbed 35% of their own misses. Both of those games were blowout losses.
They actually don’t have any real bigs, but their entire rotation is between 6-5 and 6-8. And they all hit the boards. Harold Woods, a 6’5” wing, leads the team in offensive rebounding rate.
Northeastern may not present a huge difficulty on the glass. But Memphis is coming up, and they have real bigs who will attack the glass. This will be a good test going forward.
3. Non-Reece Offense
One benefit of the blowouts Virginia has had over some of the lower-echelon teams they’ve faced is that Reece is averaging just 29 minutes per game. Reece averaged 33 minutes per game last year and figures to end the season around there again. But thus far, he’s averaged fewer than 29. That extra rest should pay dividends down the road. Yet the Hoos still need to be able to score when Beekman sits.
As a team, the Hoos average 112 points per 100 possessions. With Reece on the bench, that number falls to just 105, though much of that is garbage time. Against Wisconsin, with Reece on the bench, it was 40 points per 100 possessions and against Texas A&M, it was 26. Without Reece, they have to manufacture points with designed plays. These are highlights, but there’s far too many plays that don’t work.
You can’t tell in that first clip, but the play starts with Rohde up top. Jacob Groves makes the play though. The second clip is a designed play to get Gertrude a good look at a corner three. Great play and great shot. Better defensive teams will cover that, and Gertrude will have to be able to make a play from the corner.
4. Wing Rotation
Obviously, McKneely and Rohde are the starters. But who is first off the bench? Against Syracuse, it was Elijah Gertrude in for Rohde. Against NC Central, Bond, Gertrude, and Buchanan came in together, but Gertrude came in to play the point.
So who is really the sixth man here? Who is the first wing off the bench? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but if Rohde picks up two quick fouls, who comes off the bench? We don’t really know. Could depend on the matchup.
Is Gertrude getting in early for some extra reps after missing the first six games? Has he really caught up to Bond on the depth chart this quickly?
Taine Murray has also gotten in early in each of the past two games, so where does he fit in? Will he get real minutes against ACC foes?
We may not get an answer this game, but it is something to track moving forward.
5. The Future (Bond, Gertrude, Buchanan)
In each of Virginia’s four games against teams ranked below 200 per KenPom, the Wahoos held the opponent to fewer than 20 points in the first half, and led by an average of over 22 points at halftime. That means extra reps for these young guys. The development of this group may well determine how far this team can go this season. Once ACC begins, Tony Bennett usually shrinks his rotation to 8 players. Does he truly have 8 that he trusts against Duke or UNC or Miami?
These are also the guys who are going to carry the torch forward to next season and beyond. Each of them has had highlight reel moments. But gaining more experience will lead to more consistency, better communication, and a deeper team.
The extra rest for Beekman and company is a nice bonus too.
*Editor’s/Zach’s note: Tragically the Dell has been paved over for a new building on Grounds, but we’ll keep its spirit alive here.