I refuse to write about referees. Instead, let’s focus in on one of the best two-way backcourts in the country: Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark, who were electric during Saturday’s overtime win against Duke and continue to evolve as a duo.
According to Pivot Analysis, the Virginia Cavaliers are +170 in 531 minutes this season with Beekman and Clark on the floor together. During those minutes, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by 20.9 points per 100 possessions, while generating 1.24 points per possession on offense. Absolutely monster numbers.
These two guys have played a lot of basketball together. Over the last three seasons, Beekman and Clark have shared the floor for 2,243 minutes, per Pivot Analysis (UVA +301). However, these two have never been better as a duo than this season.
Currently, there are only five ACC players with assist rates above 30.0 percent. Virginia features two of those players: Clark (35.9 percent, No. 1 ACC) and Beekman (33.0 percent), along with the dynamic Tyree Appleby, El Ellis and Deivon Smith. For a team that ranks second nationally in assist rate — assisting on 67.0 percent of its field goals — Beekman and Clark are the two players in the engine room, powering this offense.
There’s only one other player in the rotation with an assist rate above 10.0 percent: Ben Vander Plas, unsurprisingly.
With Clark and Beekman steering the ship, Virginia ranks Top 50 nationally in free throw attempt rate: 36.8 percent, which is on pace to be the best number under Tony Bennett since the 2013-14 season, in what was essentially a different era of college hoops. (That star-studded roster, of course, featured multiple future NBA players who were magnets for foul creation, too, including Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson.)
Along with some of its speciality offensive packages, Virginia has gone all in on Inside Triangle as its base. Within those motion concepts, Virginia still finds ways to get Beekman and Clark in space, going downhill. Those Inside Motion sets still feature a healthy dose of middle third and empty-side ball screens. Plus, Clark has the green light to push in secondary situations, looking to get downhill with drag ball screens and empty-corner rejections.
However, it’s been neat to see Bennett and his staff find ways to pair Beekman and Clark together in actions, especially in late-game situations. Virginia’s gone to what’s usually known as “Pistol” or “21” sets as a means to combine Beekman and Clark and get north-south in the half court.
This is a series of quick-hitting plays, which are commonplace in the go-go NBA, that occur with five-out spacing. The primary feature is an early exchange between two guards on the wing. From this setup, the two potential ball-handlers can engage in dribble handoffs (DHOs), fake handoffs and flip-backs, which quickly flow into secondary screening actions.
Here’s an after-timeout (ATO) play from the December loss at Miami: Beekman starts on the right wing, Clark initiates the offense and Vander Plas trails in the right slot. Clark leaves the ball to Beekman, who is already in motion before the DHO. Beekman dribbles left off of a screen from BVP. Miami switches out, but Virginia is ready: Vander Plas exits and gets ready to set a Throwback pin-down for Clark — instead, he slips the screen and Miami’s switch is caught off-guard.
Notice: on the weak side of the floor, Ryan Dunn sets a Hammer screen for Isaac McKneely. If Clark keeps the ball — instead of the DHO with Beekman — and turns the corner, he may have McKneely open in the corner off of the Hammer screen for a three.
Again, as UVA is trying desperately to comeback, it’s more 21 action with Clark and Beekman. This time, though, Clark fakes the DHO with Beekman, which is known as a “Keep”. Clark can’t turn the corner vs. Miami’s switch, so he looks for Beekman off of the throwback screen from BVP.
From the second half at Virginia Tech: it’s “21 Flip Hammer Throwback” action. Beekman initiates on this possession; Clark is on the right wing and BVP is in the near slot, once again. Beekman hits ahead to Clark and chases after his own pass. Clark quickly flips back to Beekman. MJ Collins slides well to prevent Beekman from turning the corner. Clarks runs off of a flare screen from BVP, which is immediately flipped into a Throwback action.
Credit Virginia Tech’s defense for locking in here. Sean Pedulla is all over Clark. Hunter Cattoor navigates Gardner’s Hammer screen for Armaan Franklin. Clark bails the possession out, though, by driving and drawing a foul.
During the final minute of the game, UVA went to 21 on three separate occasions. First, it’s the same Flip Hammer Throwback set. Beekman hits ahead to Clark, who flips it back. Clark comes off the flare from Franklin, which quickly flips into Throwback action. Meanwhile, Gardner sets the Hammer for McKneely.
Clark hesitates to shoot off the catch; he pump fakes, which gives Collins time to contest. But this is still a good shot, especially given the game-clock situation.
Next, Beekman again hits ahead to Clark on the right wing — with Gardner in the slot. Clark fakes a handoff back to Beekman and dribbles left off of a ball screen with JG. This is similar to the play BVP slipped and scored on at Miami: after the ball screen for Clark, Gardner sets a pin-down for Beekman and dives to the rim.
Here’s the final possession of the game: it’s more 21, with Beekman hitting ahead to Clark. On the pitch-and-keep, Clark uses a screen from Gardner and tosses back to Beekman.
Virginia didn’t score on any of these looks. Virginia Tech won on its home floor — same as the Miami game. However, it’s still good process, a way for UVA to stress defenses with synergistic twin-ball handler actions and an interesting late-game/no-huddle offense approach.
Smoke Screen: Attacking Duke’s defense
As is usually the case when Duke and Virginia meet up, this game wasn’t always pretty, but it still featured some high-level basketball, featuring more than a half-dozen future NBA players.
Rewatched Duke-UVA 2015 — wild amount of talent on the floor. 14 guys in this game went on to play at least 1 NBA game, 7 on each team— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) August 21, 2021
Winslow, Anderson: a different level physically
Brogdon's scoring polish + 1st step: so good. Scored 6 different ways, all levels of the floor
One of the primary ways UVA probed Duke’s half-court defense was a series of plays from the Inside Triangle offense — with Beekman and Clark working off of one another. This is screen-the-screener (STS) slice pin-down action, which looks to target the post-up player on the slice screen or the guard that sets the slice screen and then comes off of the pin-down.
Here, Clark pitches to Beekman, who dribbles right and uses Gardner’s ball screen. As he dribbles right, Franklin comes from the right block and sets a screen to slice BVP to the low post. As soon as that’s done, Franklin comes off of a pin-down from Gardner — the STS action. Mark Mitchell and Dereck Lively do a nice job navigating this, but the ball gets reversed and Clark draws a foul on Jeremy Roach.
Now, on the first play of the second half: it’s the same setup. Clark pitches to Beekman, who dribbles right off of Gardner’s screen. Franklin sets the slice for BVP and comes off the pin-down from Gardner. Beekman enters it to BVP. Franklin and Gardner engage in quick re-screen (“Ricky”) action, with Gardner setting a “Rip” (back screen). Franklin cuts to the rim and BVP threads a nice pass into traffic for two points.
On the next possession, Clark and Beekman work some misdirection magic. Instead of pitching the ball to Beekman, as he has on the previous possessions, Clark fakes the DHO, keeps the ball and gets downhill for a layup.
Duke’s help defense is much too slow here to react.
Watch UVA build off of that possession with secondary progressions. Here, it’s the same STS slice pin-down look. Franklin catches the ball off of the pin-down and kicks it right to Dunn. From there, UVA flows back into more motion offense: Beekman comes off the staggered screens from BVP and Franklin. However, Franklin slips, Duke gets caught in between coverages and Dunn makes a nice pass, which ultimately results in a Franklin layup.
One of the features of Inside Motion is its ability to decentralize where the offense flows from. Yes, the middle third of the floor is where the majority of the action takes place, but the offense can still include side pick-and-rolls, spread ball screens and post initiation.
Gardner and BVP are both capable of operating at the nail or in other mid-post locations. Virginia took advantage of this against Duke.
On this possession, BVP slips a cross screen for Franklin and comes off the pin from Gardner. Beekman centers the ball to BVP, who reverses it wide to Clark. Franklin appears set up to use the staggered screens from Gardner and BVP; however, before BVP makes contact, he splits down to the post and receives the entry from Clark. Gardner and Franklin look poised for a screening action, but with Lively switching 1-5, those two engage in a split cut — running together and then splitting out in different directions.
This catches Duke off-guard. BVP hits Gardner on the cut, Duke’s defense is now in rotation and BVP draws a foul.
Virginia starts this baseline out-of-bounds play in a Box set and flows into motion. Kadin Shedrick (he’s back!) catches in the post. McKneely, who is becoming a solid guard screener, sets the Rip screen for BVP, who cuts in for a layup.
The Cavaliers also inverted those post initiation setups, allowing their guards to operate “Snug” pick-and-roll. This is a ball-screen action — popularized by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin when they played together with the Los Angeles Clippers — that’s initiated from the mid-post.
This tactic works like empty-side pick-and-roll — just in a more condensed space. As a result, defensive coverages aren’t always sure how to react.
Here, UVA runs the STS slice pin-down action, but it’s inverted: Gardner sets the screen to slice Beekman to the post. After Gardner comes off the pin-down, you can see BVP point out: get screen for Beekman. Duke, however, does a nice job navigating the 1-5 switch.
One minute later, Virginia flows into more snug pick-and-roll — this time with Clark as the ball handler and Shedrick screening. Once again, Duke switches, but as Shedrick rolls and posts, Dariq Whitehead gets whistled for a foul.
Now you see me, now you don’t
During the midweek win over NC State, Beekman — an excellent cutter — scored three times off of backdoor cuts from the strong-side corner, with Virginia in its pick-and-roll offense.
On all three occasions, NC State’s Terquavion Smith was caught ball watching. Going up against Duke: Virginia landed crucial second-half buckets on similar looks.
Virginia’s spacing is very good here; Beekman and Dunn are stashed wide to the weak side. There isn’t a single Duke defender inside the paint when Clark approaches BVP’s screen. Clark uses his craft, though, to spin back and reject the screen. Meanwhile, Franklin darts backdoor, makes a nice catch in traffic and finishes through contact at the rim.
Later in the second half, with Duke clinging to a one-point lead, it’s more spread pick-and-roll with Clark and BVP. This is where BVP’s gravity and passing can really do damage. Lively drops in coverage, and it’s not a full switch; as Clark probes, Roach stays with him, which leaves BVP wide open on the pop. Clark kicks it out and only Jacob Grandison is on the weak side. He opts to close out on BVP, and Dunn makes an excellent read: he cuts in for a monster slam.
In only 266 minutes of action, Dunn is up to 12 dunks on the season — most of which are via cuts, designed lobs and put-backs.
Beekman had a tough afternoon finishing at the rim vs. Duke, but otherwise he was stellar: seven assists, three steals and zero turnovers. Clark went for 16 points (6-of-7 from two), five assists and one turnover. When those are able to create like this, and Virginia gets production from the most athletic guys in its front-court room — Shedrick and Dun — Tony Bennett’s team can win in a variety of ways.