That was a disgustingly bad blow to Virginia’s resume
The blowout losses to Memphis and Wisconsin were ugly enough. Whatever the heck just happened in South Bend was probably the worst performance by this program since the UMBC loss in 2018. There have been blowouts since then. But Notre Dame is a bad team. This wasn’t just a bad loss, this was an embarrassing one. It’s one thing to lose to a good team by a lot or to a bad team by a little. But to fall to a bad team by a lot?
This is first season since 2010-11, Tony Bennett’s second in Charlottesville, that #UVa has endured three losses of at least 20 points.— David Teel (@ByDavidTeel) December 30, 2023
Notre Dame lost to The Citadel by 20 at home. The Irish were KenPom’s 223rd best team coming. They were the ACC’s worst team coming into this game. UVA was comfortably among the upper echelon and got embarrassed.
Notre Dame shot 51% from the field. Virginia shot 38.2%. The Irish shot 47.8% from three and 76.5% from the line. The ‘Hoos went 18.2% and 55.6%. No bueno.
The Irish entered this one 237th in college basketball’s NET Ranking. Thank goodness this game was in South Bend because that means that the Irish are just barely ranked high enough for this to be a Quad 3 loss and not a Quad 4 one for UVA. Still, this is a bad result that goes on UVA’s tournament resume. After we commended the team for not taking a bad loss in non-conference play on Wednesday, the ‘Hoos followed that up with a result that could doom them come Selection Sunday if they don’t string together some big wins and avoid any more losses like this in ACC play.
Some of this was Notre Dame getting hot
Before continuing, it is worth noting that Notre Dame shot the lights out against the ‘Hoos even when Virginia contested shots. The Irish entered Saturday as the 343rd best three-point shooting team in the country at 26.7% and then made 11-of-23 (47.8%) including 7-of-10 in the first half. That’s not just some bad defense; Notre Dame deserves some credit. It’s not a good team, but the Irish have some young talent that came to play today.
Virginia’s young talent isn’t good enough yet
It’s a harsh reality, but the state of this Virginia team right now lies in the fact that the program’s young talent hasn’t performed like it needed to early this season. Players including Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn, Andrew Rohde, Leon Bond, and even Blake Buchanan and Elijah Gertrude have all shown flashes. But none have been consistently good enough for this team to be an ACC contender.
The nature of the team and its up and down results this season stem from the volatility of its young players who make up the majority of the rotation. Even rotational “veterans” Jake Groves and Taine Murray have played either zero or limited minutes in the Virginia system before this season. Reece Beekman isn’t just the lone consistent performer, he’s also the only guy who has played more than 25 minutes per game.
Even with plenty of raw talent on this roster, the underclassmen have been performing too far away from their potential for Virginia to be more than a middle of the road ACC team. That’s not to say they won’t improve in the next couple months. The potential for this team is still high. But the floor is... low.
For UVA to be competitive in the ACC, to make the NCAA Tournament, and maybe even win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in five years, the young, high potential players are going to have to be better and more consistent.
The ‘Hoos have not been a good team away from home
It’s probably a direct result of that youth and inexperience, but Virginia has been a bad team when not playing in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena this season. The ‘Hoos are a whopping -64 in their five neutral or road games this season. In their two true road tests, they’re -45. The Florida win back on November 10th was the only solid result with three blowout losses and a Quad-3 two-point win over West Virginia leaving little else to be encouraged about.
It’s been tough to see UVA get punched in the mouth and not be able to respond. Again, yeah, that’s a byproduct of not having much experience in unfriendly environments. But it’s still a very real concern. The ‘Hoos have nine road contests against conference opponents left this season and they’re going to have their backs up against a wall in environments that test them. To go where they want to this season they’ll have to be more resilient in those settings than they have been so far.
UVA’s offensive schemes are outdated
Even with this result, Virginia’s defensive efficiency is still 6th in the country per KenPom. There are absolutely weaknesses to this defense most notably including a lack of true size on the interior to clean up the defensive glass and negate post threats. But, fundamentally, Notre Dame had success in this game because the shooters got hot. Given the personnel, UVA’s defense is still very good and has elite pillars to build around.
While the analytics support a lack of panic about the UVA defense, the offense is a different story. Per KenPom, Virginia’s offense is the 152nd best in college basketball. Bart Torvik has the ‘Hoos at 174th. For both metrics, only Louisville and Notre Dame have worse offenses in the ACC.
Some of that is a result of the personnel not performing. But some of that is also the fact that UVA runs two offensive schemes that have both been well known throughout the basketball world since the 1990s. Beyond some high ball screen actions here and there, Virginia runs either its sides/mover-blocker offense or their inside triangle offense. When one offense isn’t working, the team reverts back to the other, and then back to the original when the second one fails. It’s a broken cycle.
Bottom line, the book is out on how to defend Virginia’s offensive schemes. It requires pinpoint perfect execution, real talent, and significant experience to create efficient offense out of these basic offenses. Unfortunately, this season UVA doesn’t have significant experience, real (consistently performing) talent, and has not executed the schemes at a high level against legit competition.
I’m no schematic genius, and I will not pretend to have even a fraction of the basketball IQ that the Virginia staff has. But since 2019 UVA’s offense has been bogged down by the outdated and simplistic actions it relies on. It’s past time to make changes in some way, shape, or form.