The Virginia Cavaliers kept it close for about 30 minutes in their first true road game of the season against Memphis, but an intense pressing defense by the Tigers eventually knocked the wheels off the bus for Virginia in what became a 77-54 blowout defeat for UVA. Memphis scored 27 points off 18 Virginia turnovers and took full advantage of an offense lacking solid ball-handlers beyond Reece Beekman, and a 13-0 burst in the middle of the second half put the Cavaliers away for good.
Here’s our read from Virginia’s second blowout loss against a good opponent this season:
Stock up (or at least sideways)
On a night of ugly performances, Beekman was one of the few bright-ish spots. He was the only player on the floor who didn’t look sped up by the Memphis ball pressure and really kept Virginia within striking distance for over a half of this game, a crazy fact in hindsight given the lopsided final score. Every good thing that happens on offense for Virginia comes from Beekman breaking down defenses to either create his own shot or set up someone else.
He finished with an uncharacteristic five turnovers (though his bigs didn’t exactly help by fumbling some passes) but also knocked down some big shots including two triples. His experience showed against a lengthy, intimidating defense in a hostile environment — at least until the team’s wheels totally came off late in the game, as he turned the ball over three times in essentially garbage time.
Groves wasn’t perfect tonight: the Memphis press sped him up in the second half, leading to an ugly air-ball from beyond the arc very early in the shot clock. However, the Oklahoma transfer stood out as Virginia’s clear-cut second-best offensive player all night. He finished with 12 points on 5-7 shooting (2-3 beyond the arc) and created most of those baskets with smart cuts and spot-ups. He really knows how to move off the ball, and his big shots were one of the only reasons Virginia hung around for so long.
Memphis became the first team to capitalize on Virginia’s lack of quality ball-handlers outside of Reece Beekman. With Harris out due to an ankle injury, the Cavaliers just didn’t have enough juice off the bounce to break the intense ball pressure from the Tigers. Inability to beat defenders off the dribble with quickness created a lot of predictable, forced passes and easy turnovers for the Memphis defense. Harris isn’t this team’s savior by any means, but he’s a valuable piece of the roster and UVA sorely felt his absence tonight.
Everyone knows that Isaac McKneely is an elite three-point shooter, including opposing coaches. For the second straight game, opposing defenders stayed glued to McKneely at the three point line and forced him to beat them in another way: attacking closeouts, driving off the dribble, passing to create advantages for others. And for the second straight game, McKneely couldn’t find a changeup to complement his very effective fastball of spot-up shooting. He shot just 1-8 from the floor and missed all five of his three-point attempts; over the last two games, IMac is shooting just 20% from the field and 2-11 on threes.
Dunn’s early struggles were the first signs of an ugly outing for the Cavaliers: before the first media timeout, he’d air-balled a three-pointer, committed a silly foul, and missed a layup and free throw. His offensive woes persisted throughout the game, and forward David Jones gave him trouble on the defensive end too. The Cavaliers switched him off Jones in favor of Reece Beekman — when was the last time Dunn couldn’t handle his assignment? He forced some shots up late in the game, finishing with 11 points on 14 attempts from the field. Dunn’s a good player, but he needs to find a way to contribute on the offensive end.
Rohde has played 75 minutes over Virginia’s last three games. He’s scored just three points and missed 13 shots. The adjustment to higher level competition just hasn’t come yet. In one telling possession this game, Rohde made a sound decision to isolate against Memphis’s center and got open at the basket but hit a layup off the bottom of the backboard. The process is okay, and Rohde’s done a good job adjusting to Bennett’s system on both ends of the floor. But if he can’t score, does it matter?
Virginia’s young talent
Tonight was a wake-up call for a lot of promising young talents on the floor for Virginia. Blake Buchanan’s been struggling ever since some very early breakout performances, but he didn’t look up to par against Memphis’s frontcourt in limited minutes tonight. The athleticism flashed as always with Gertrude, but he made some poor decisions in transition and semi-transition which led to three turnovers; Gertrude just hasn’t quite adjusted to the team’s expected offensive style yet. And Leon Bond continues to cook in the midrange, scoring six points on 3-5 shooting tonight, but he hasn’t yet found a good way to impact games without the ball in his hands on offense.
It’s really good that the Cavaliers have so many young players capable of contributing and who have cracked the rotation already. However, when you rely on youth you have to expect some growing pains, and the second half tonight was the epitome of growing pains. Hopefully struggling through a tough outing tonight means the freshmen are more capable come February or March.
The 2023-24 team’s postseason chances
Come March, the Cavaliers will need to beat good basketball teams if they want to make a run in the ACC tournament or snap their streak of zero NCAA tournament wins this decade. Against the four real potential NCAA tournament caliber teams they’ve played this year, here’s how Virginia has fared:
- 59-47 win over Texas A&M at JPJ
- 73-70 win over Florida at a neutral site (Charlotte)
- 41-65 loss to Wisconsin at a neutral site (Fort Myers)
- 54-77 loss to Memphis on the road
That’s one sound victory, one toss-up game, and two absolute drubbings. Those aren’t odds I particularly like. There’s still plenty of time to grow, but right now this iteration of Virginia can’t hang with the best of the best in college basketball.
Good news for Virginia: they won't play another team in the KenPom top 50 until February and have 10 easier games to rack up some wins and play their way into form.— Ben Wieland (@BenWieland) December 20, 2023
Bad news: to succeed in tournament play (ACC and NCAA), you have to beat good basketball teams