Well, the Virginia Cavaliers got stomped (again), this time to the Memphis Tigers to the tune of a 77-54 final score. With the loss, we have five takeaways for the Wahoos moving forward.
Virginia’s secondary scorers come up way short
Since the exam break, Andrew Rohde and Isaac McKneely have combined for just 14 points on 3-32 (9.4%) shooting.
After two games when he shot 12-16 from three and scored 44 total points, McKneely has scored just 14 points in the last two on 2-11 shooting from deep and 4-20 overall. Against Memphis in particular, McKneely looked uncomfortable and settled for too many long step-back midrange jumpers. The Northeastern Huskies and now the Memphis Tigers had success running him off the three-point line and he had issues either shooting with a hand in his face or creating off the dribble.
That’s not the end of the world for McKneely; the next step after establishing himself as an elite shooter was always going to be being a threat beyond it. But, for this team right now, McKneely being a non-factor on offense is a major issue, so he and the staff are going to have to find ways to get him going again.
Along with McKneely struggling, Andrew Rohde has also been unable to score the basketball the past two games. He was dealing with an injury over the exam break, so deserves some slack for that. And he did add nine assists to just one turnover in these two contests.
For a team that doesn’t have an established interior scoring threat, those two not putting the ball in the basket is a problem. Whether they can get back on the right track for conference play might very well be the determining factor for how good UVA can be this season.
Reece Beekman needs some help
Reece Beekman continues to play like an All-American, but he’s been the only consistent producer for the ‘Hoos this season and he can’t do it all himself no matter how complete of a player he is.
Against Memphis, Beekman scored 13 points, registered four assists, five rebounds, a steal, and shot 5-8 from the floor and 2-3 from three. He also had five turnovers, a sign of needing to try to do everything for the Wahoos on offense.
Beekman can score at all three levels, create looks for others, and be a lockdown perimeter defender. He’s everything you could ask for in a Tony Bennett point guard. But the pieces around him simply aren’t performing to his standard. A lot of that is probably inexperience. But it’s still hard to watch these games where the onus is entirely on the senior guard to carry the load on either end for 40 minutes.
Virginia desperately needs Dante Harris back
I’m not sure Harris is going to be the answer as a secondary offensive creator. But at the very least he’s capable of touching the paint and handling the ball when being pressured, something McKneely, Rohde, and Elijah Gertrude have had issues with the past two games.
Presuming that Harris is back before too long, Virginia will have an answer to the ball pressure that Memphis succeeded with tonight. The Cavaliers turned the ball over 18 times in this 23-point loss with the Tigers scoring 27 points off those turnovers. At the very least he raises the floor for UVA on either end as a good point of attack defender and capable secondary initiator. His offensive skill-set is more limited after that than McKneely and Rohde’s, yet the ‘Hoos are squarely lacking in the areas where he’s the strongest, so his return will absolutely be a net positive.
UVA gets sped up for the first time in a long time
It wasn’t just the turnovers, but how they happened that cost Virginia this game. Announcers tend to posit that it’s simply not possible to speed Bennett teams up and, usually, that’s true. UVA plays its style no matter what and imposes it on opponents even if it doesn’t always mean victory.
You know things aren't going well when Tony Bennett goes to a zone defense. Once a decade or so sighting.— Hooz Got Next (@HoozGotNext) December 20, 2023
The ‘Hoos struggled to bring the ball up against Memphis’ press, made poor decisions when they broke it, couldn’t deal with the Tigers’ length, and tried to make too many hero plays defensively that led to breakdowns and open looks. There were only a few possessions of zone defense late in the game, yet that decision to play zone at all said enough: Memphis broke down the Virginia system.
I’m not trying to be ominous or dramatic by saying this. It’s simply weird to see a Virginia team not only outplayed, but beat to a point where they abandoned (even for a few minutes) their system.
Virginia is still a good basketball team
Now that I’ve said a bunch of bad things about the ‘Hoos, let me take the opportunity to reassure that they are still a good basketball team. The youth and inexperience means that this is inherently a volatile group who . It’s no shock that Beekman is the one consistent performer because he’s been in the program the longest. Even though he plays a much smaller role, Taine Murray is further evidence of that.
Bennett ball is based on experience and continuity. Guess what UVA doesn’t have much of right now? You guessed it, experience and continuity.
At their best, the Cavaliers can control affairs against quality basketball teams (see: Texas A&M). At their worst, they get blown out against well-coached, talented opponents who identify a weakness and relentlessly pick at the scab.
Guess what UVA does have, though? That’s right, talent! Beekman, Dunn, McKneely, Rohde, Buchanan, Gertrude, and Bond are all talented players on varying levels of the development spectrum. How soon and how much those six guys other than Beekman can adjust and develop this season will be what determines how good this team is in February and March. They were always going to be a team that took some lumps in the non-conference and then would hope to adjust, develop, and come together for the most important stretch of basketball.
The areas for improvement are obvious. Now it’s about execution.