In a massive home win against the Clemson Tigers, the Virginia Cavaliers pulled themselves out of a two-game losing streak and won, 64-57. As such, the ‘Hoos keep themselves alive for a share of the ACC Regular Season Title, should the Pittsburgh Panthers lose one of their two remaining games and UVA takes care of business against Louisville on Saturday. With the win, we have our typical five takeaways.
UVA gets the bounce back win it desperately needed
After consecutive fairly demoralizing road losses, Virginia did exactly what it needed to in this game. Coming home to play a quality, capable Clemson team and handling their business is a massive momentum boost for the Wahoos. The team looked quite lethargic, especially offensively, over its past five games and so stamping this one in the W column was always going to be critical.
Now, UVA is tied with Miami for second in the ACC at 14-5, is guaranteed a top-four seed and a double bye in the ACC Tournament, and picks up a solid Quad-2 win to stop the bleeding for their NCAA Tournament resume. The 180-degree turnaround since Saturday has been dramatic and finding adjustments that have fixed some of the biggest issues that the team was dealing with during that tough five game stretch speaks to the experience of this roster and this staff. Counting this group out at any point would be unwise.
Tony Bennett’s adjustments come at exactly the right time
Following four consecutive games where UVA scored fewer than one points per possession, Tony Bennett answered the call for offensive adjustment and returned to his staple sides as the offense scored an improved 1.085 points per possession versus the Tigers. After not scoring until 4:50 into the game, Virginia essentially abandoned its middle triangle offense that the team has relied on since early January and thus generated much better shots.
Some of those looks didn’t fall and there was obvious rust in running a scheme that hasn’t been used for much if any possessions over the past 15 games. But the fluidity of the offense was clearly back after the middle triangle scheme had become stagnant as opponents found ways to stunt what Virginia wanted to do. It may have taken two consecutive losses and five straight games of poor offensive performance to force the staff’s hand, but this was the time to adjust the scheme and that’s exactly what happened. All hail Tony Bennett.
Lineup wise, there was similar adaptation with Ryan Dunn and Francisco Caffaro seeing 18 and nine minutes, respectively, after playing relatively less in recent weeks (or months, in Caffaro’s case). All due respect to the quality players that Ben Vander Plas and Jayden Gardner are and what they bring to the floor for Virginia, but it had become obvious that Virginia needed to try to get away from relying on their combination as much as it has since January.
The decision to do just that in this game, albeit not to an extreme extent as BVP (21 minutes) and Gardner (32 minutes) still played extensive minutes, was exactly what the doctor order particularly against an offensively threatening Clemson front-court. Dunn and Caffaro added necessary size, strength, and length on defense. Being able to use its versatility in the front-court is something UVA needs to continue to tap into.
Altogether, it was just awesome to see the Virginia staff identify and acknowledge what hadn’t been working and go about addressing it. The changes weren’t revolutionary, but they were enough to get the job done against Clemson and to get the team back headed in the right direction. And, at this point in the season, that’s all that matters.
Ryan Dunn returns to prominence in style
Speaking of Dunn, he deserves major credit for how he performed tonight. Scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds (three of which were offensive), and adding a steal and a block, he produced on offense in a way he hasn’t in a while in his 18 minutes. Frankly, he should have played more in the second half after impressing for 13 minutes in the first.
But, when he was called upon in the final minutes, Dunn drew a massive foul when going up for an offensive rebound and promptly hit two massive free throws before guarding Hunter Tyson on a couple of huge final defensive possessions. His versatility, mobility, and length on defense is unparalleled on this roster and adding some scoring punch off the bench as well speaks to how he’s grown over this season. The freshman from New York fundamentally alters how UVA’s defense plays and continuing to see an increase in his time on the floor would bode well for the Cavaliers’ odds as postseason play approaches.
Kadin Shedrick not playing is notable
While a win such as this comes with plenty of deserved optimism, the fact that Kadin Shedrick didn’t play a single minute in this game is something worth noting. Playing him more minutes is something that myself and others have been asking for over the recent stretch of struggles. As he is prone to do, Tony Bennett proved why he’s a better basketball mind than just about everybody as he found success in playing Caffaro instead.
Still, the reality that Virginia’s starting center until mid-January is now essentially out of the rotation despite there being some good matchups for him is a tough one to face. The combination of him just not developing into the player he has the potential to be and Bennett’s harsh but just short leash for his big men has meant that UVA has lost out on a valuable component of its personnel. Time will tell how much that costs the Cavaliers down the line and whether a postseason surge from Shedrick could alter this narrative. But him being borderline unplayable in the staff’s eyes is a tough actuality.
More shots will start to fall for the guards
It might sound odd to so strongly praise an offensive performance and schematic changes that saw UVA shoot just 40.7% (22-54) from the floor and 26.3% (5-19). But, unlike against North Carolina and Boston College, a lot more of those misses came on open looks. Armaan Franklin and Isaac McKneely — who each scored 12 points — looked far more comfortable playing in the sides offense.
It makes sense for McKneely (4-6 from the field, 1-2 from deep, who played sides throughout his high school career and thrives in coming off pin-down screens. Meanwhile, Franklin may have shot just 5-11 from the floor and 2-6 from deep, but he simply had more open looks and was, if anything, too hesitant to let the ball fly when he got space. Trusting him and Kihei Clark (who was 0-7 on the night and 0-5 from three) to shoot better moving forward considering the level of shot difficulty they had tonight is reasonable. Such logical improvement as Virginia gets more comfortable playing its old, faithful offensive scheme should yield even better efficiency.