Over the past two weeks, the Virginia Cavaliers have plummeted in the advanced metrics, falling from 13th on KenPom all the way down to 34th. That is despite winning three of four games during this stretch. The problem is that Virginia played poorly against bad teams, definitively not dominating the way they should have.
That, of course, culminated in a loss on the road to Boston College. A road loss in conference isn’t a big deal, those games are always tough. But it was the way they lost. It was shooting 4/21 (19%) from downtown, but also going just 15/38 (39%) on twos. When you score just 0.8 points per possession against the #107 defense in the nation, you deserve to fall in the rankings.
How does a team average 71 points per game in January and then average just 61 in February? The Cavaliers scored 76 against BC the first time out, and 48 the second. It’s just not the same team. Is it fatigue? Is it injuries?
The last time Virginia went through an offensive funk, back in December, Reece Beekman was dealing with a hamstring injury. In December, the team averaged 63 points per game. Reece shot 44% on eight field goal attempts per game in January. He’s shooting 32% on almost 10 field goal attempts in February. Back in December, Reece shot 39% on five field goal attempts per game (this includes his four minute cameo against JMU when he hurt the hamstring). The 2019 NCAA championship team had multiple NBA players in Ty Jerome, DeAndre Hunter, etc. Right now, Reece is the only sure-fire NBA prospect on this team (maybe Ryan Dunn gets there, but right now he’s far too raw). That means this team goes as Reece goes.
This is a good look for Beekman, but it’s well short. He was making this shot earlier in the season. No team looks good when shots aren’t falling. But Virginia, because they play slow and methodically, can look completely out of sorts offensively when the shots aren’t falling.
The ‘Hoos are not in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. They are not really in danger of missing the double-bye in the ACC tournament. But they are in danger of going home early in both tournaments if they don’t right the ship. They have three regular season games remaining in which to do that.
The first of those games is a rematch against the North Carolina Tar Heels, in Chapel Hill. Virginia handled UNC at home, 65-58, back in early January. Here is our preview from that game.
In that contest, the ‘Hoos shot just 6/19 (31%) from three, and just 11/19 (58%) from the charity stripe. But they shot 55% on twos and played enough defense to get away with a relatively easy win. They were, of course, aided by an injury suffered by Armando Bacot in the first minute of the game. Bacot is one of the best interior players in the country, and his absence was a huge factor in this game.
Freshman Jalen Washington took Bacot’s place and played a season high 27 minutes, scoring 13 points with six rebounds. Considering Bacot is averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes, that was a big advantage for Virginia.
Bacot is healthy and should play his usual role in this game. That means Virginia will need help inside. That UNC game was the last time Kadin Shedrick was in the starting lineup. Shedrick played 18 minutes, despite the injury to Bacot, with two points and two rebounds. Ben Vander Plas came off the bench for 27 minutes, scoring 17 points with eight rebounds. BVP has started every game since as Bennett has relied on small ball lineups and his Inside Triangle Offense.
This play is all Kihei Clark, getting into the paint and drawing the defense. But BVP knocks down the open three. BVP is shooting just 30% for the season, but he had a five-game stretch in January where he made 12/30 (40%). No surprise those were all wins, and all were relatively easy wins. Since that stretch, BVP has made 6/26 (23%) over eight games. He’s also made just 5/13 (38%) from the free throw line during that stretch.
It isn’t just BVP missing shots. Isaac McKneely has made just six of his last 21 three-pointers (29%). Armaan Franklin has made 6/19 (32%) over the same stretch. Beekman has only converted on 2/12 (17%), which again makes you wonder if he’s hurt or fatigued.
Is it time to rethink BVP’s position in the starting lineup, especially against a team like UNC with size and ability up front? Kadin Shedrick has had his moments over this recent stretch where he isn’t getting much playing time. He was very good in the Wahoos’ easy win over NC State, which was easily Virginia’s best performance this month.
Vander Plas provides a high basketball IQ, passing, and floor spacing. But that floor spacing only helps when shots are dropping. If the team can’t shoot, and BVP can’t shoot, is it time to go back to Shedrick up front with a more defensive look especially with the threat that Bacot will pose on Saturday?
Or maybe they can just start hitting some shots again?
Either way, something has to change for this team and it has to change now for UVA to get back on track and try to find some late season success in winning a share of the ACC Regular Title, being competitive in Greensboro, and then making a run in the NCAA Tournament.