Losing to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is a perfectly respectable result
It’s absolutely a bummer that the Wahoos’ stretch of winning basketball over the last month has come to an end. But losing to VT on the road — even despite their bad record — isn’t something all that concerning. In fact, the Hokies were actually betting favorites coming into this game. It’s a missed opportunity for the ‘Hoos to pick up another Quad 1 win and improve their NCAA Tournament resume. But, assuming Virginia Tech doesn’t completely fall off at the end of this season and instead continues to improve as the Hokies have of late, this won’t be viewed as a bad loss at all.
It does definitely complicate Virginia’s path to winning the ACC Regular Season Title. But everything is still in play with UVA currently sitting tied with Pitt for second (seeding tiebreaker would go to the Panthers who beat the ‘Hoos head-to-head), a game behind the Clemson Tigers who are hosting a dangerous Miami squad as of writing this. With UVA having four games against ACC teams outside KenPom’s top-150 and a home contest with Clemson set for February 28th, the ‘Hoos still control their own destiny within the ACC.
Virginia Tech has an offensive field day against UVA’s front-court
This is by no means the first time I’ve emphasized the impact of Kadin Shedrick’s struggles over the last month of play, but this game only further emphasized how lacking the Virginia defense is without a true center on the floor. The redshirt junior didn’t play a single minute of this game as Bennett elected to play without a true center on the floor for 36 minutes and even ran with the uber small lineup with Armaan Franklin playing the four in the final minutes of play.
While Grant Basile isn’t a tremendous back to the basket post threat, his playmaking and shot-making abilities on the perimeter gave the Cavaliers fits as Mike Young’s effective dribble hand off and ball screen sets burned Virginia. Similarly to how Keve Aluma used to kill the ‘Hoos especially in the Cassell Coliseum, Basile’s 14 points (6-10 shooting, 2-3 from three) and four assists were evidence of how missing the type of player Shedrick could be at his best is an issue.
Not having the length, shot-blocking ability, ball-screen hedging, or general disruptiveness that we’ve grown accustomed to being a staple amongst Wahoo big men in the past is allowing opponents to pinpoint a weakness in the Packline defense and exploit it. Justyn Mutts’ 17 points and eight assists were similarly problematic and emblematic of how well the Hokies matched up against the personnel that Bennett has been relying on of late and how — while switching defensively was a good change up to throw at the Hokies — it wasn’t truly sustainable in this game.
Dunn and Shedrick need more minutes
With all that being said, I find myself quite oddly stating that the UVA coaching staff needs to commit more to success on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in lineup usage. Shedrick has made it difficult with his foul trouble, but considering that this front-court defense is going to be a dire problem for the ‘Hoos down the stretch, it’s worth letting him play through the kinks and trying to help him get comfortable on the floor again.
Shedrick seems like the type of guy who needs eight-ish minutes on the floor to really get into the groove of the game. I’d suggest starting him against NC State and their center DJ Burns and then seeing what happens. He’s going to have to be a part of the rotation at some point. Might as well try and help him get his feet back under him now rather than having to force it later.
Meanwhile, the Ryan Dunn back-and-forth continues to be interesting. Again, while his defense can be such a major plus, his offensive output remains limited to alley oop dunks, offensive rebounds, put-back dunks, and the occasional catch and shoot three. Thus, especially when Ben Vander Plas goes 0-3 from deep, finding the most ideal front-court combo is difficult. Nevertheless, with how UVA was consistently burned by the actions centered around Basile and Mutts, playing Dunn more than ten minutes in this game (especially down the stretch) probably could have at least somewhat helped to stop the bleeding.
UVA offense settled too much and didn’t hit enough shots
It’s a pretty simplistic point of analysis, but the Wahoo offense was just a few ticks off today with too many bad shots being taken and not enough good ones falling down. The aforementioned 0-3 three-point shooting from BVP, Franklin being slightly off and going 1-4 from deep, and too many contested, falling away midrange jumpers from Jayden Gardner all meant that Virginia finished 25-61 (41%) from the field and 6-18 (33.3%) from beyond the arc.
Sometimes that just happens, particularly on the road in a rivalry game. It’s not the end of the world and there was still solid offensive production (which I’ll touch on momentarily). But, with how the ‘Hoos were trailing for 37:23 of this game and never led, hitting more shots was necessary to pull off the comeback victory. That just didn’t happen. But that’s okay.
Beekman, Clark, and Gardner remain clutch
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: the strength of this Virginia roster is in its backcourt and, specifically, in the combination of Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark. Each point guard had his big moments against the Hokies today in a raucous environment. While Clark wasn’t as effective guarding Sean Pedulla this time around compared to the game in Charlottesville, Beekman was lights out against Hunter Cattoor (3-10, 3-7 from three).
Offensively, Clark scored 17 points (6-13 from the field, 3-7 from three) and dished out four assists while Beekman tallied 15 (5-11, 0-2, 5-6 from the free throw line) and five. They combined for just three turnovers as the duo consistently scored off of drives to the basket. Beekman was impressively aggressive at getting to the basket and absorbing contact. Their consistent production has been leading the team all season and seeing them produce against VT on the road is further confirmation that Beekman and Clark can be relied upon in the big moments, even if the Cavaliers didn’t pull out the win today.
Gardner also deserves credit as UVA’s leading scorer versus the Hokies. He scored 20 and notched a double-double with 10 rebounds (including six on offense). His aforementioned shot selection wasn’t great (8-18 from the floor on the day), but he’s still producing. Over the last three contests, the former ECU transfer is averaging 18.3 points per game as he’s back to similar scoring levels as last season. Virginia will hope he can keep that up — albeit it on lower volume with better shot selection — moving forward.