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Five takeaways from Virginia basketball’s ACC Championship loss to Duke

Conclusions from a bummer of a loss for the ‘Hoos.

Duke v Virginia Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

In a frustrating game where the Virginia Cavaliers always seemed on the verge of pulling back into it, UVA fell to the Duke Blue Devils 59-49 and lost the ACC Tournament Championship. With the defeat, we have five takeaways.

Bad shooting catches up to UVA

I swear for each of these stories after the last five to ten games, in one way or another, I’ve written about how Virginia hasn’t shot the ball well from deep. In some instances, the Wahoos overcame it and found other ways to get it done offensively. In others, such as during that stretch of games in February, that wasn’t the case.

Against Duke in a championship environment, UVA shot just 23.5% (4-17) from beyond the three-point line. Throw in going just 8-16 (50%) on layups, and winning a tournament title with that sort of shooting efficiency would have been miraculous. Obviously, there’s a lot more to this offensive performance than the numbers themselves. But the stark reality is that this team hasn’t hit shots at a respectable clip in a long time. The Virginia that shot 9-14 from three against Baylor back in November now feels like a hazy dream of days long ago.

Virginia shot 33.3% (16-48) on field goals in this game. Kihei Clark finished 1-9 from the field and 0-4 from long range. Jayden Gardner shot 3-9. Reece Beekman went 5-11 and 0-3. Armaan Franklin’s only two makes were from deep as he went 2-5 from distance but 0-3 from two-point range. Those are UVA’s four leading scorers, and none of them shot at 50% or above with only Beekman even coming close.

UVA battled in this one, of that there is no doubt. Guys tried to make plays, attempted to put the ball through the hoop. But the results weren’t befitting of a championship caliber performance and the final score reflected that.

Duke’s defense matched up really well with Virginia

Of course, the extension of that unfortunate reality is that Duke’s defensive scheme and personnel is practically built to stop this iteration of the UVA offense. Without any true spacing threat in the front-court for Virginia and with guards who are at their best when they’re attacking the rim, Duke’s size and length had an absolute field day. Sure, the ‘Hoos didn’t finish well around the basket, but a lot of that is because the Blue Devils disrupted nearly every look at the rim.

With Derick Lively and Kyle Filipowski making UVA’s life a living hell in the paint and the length on the wings from Mark Mitchell, Dariq Whitehead, and Tyrese Proctor, the Wahoo guards were forced to press. They had to try to make the passes they wouldn’t typically try, they had to fire away some occasionally ill-advised threes. Clearly, they got rattled. Clark, Beekman, and Franklin combined for just seven assists to ten turnovers.

Meanwhile, in the front-court, the Cavaliers had nothing going. After a pair of quality performances against North Carolina and Clemson, Gardner was stymied by both the physicality and size of Duke. He’s undersized as it is. Playing against a couple seven footers makes life pretty difficult. And, all due respect to the very good player he is, Gardner also doesn’t truly have the tools to exploit mismatches which was obvious against the Blue Devils a couple different times when the 6’2” Jermey Roach switched onto him. Otherwise, down low, the rest of Virginia’s bigs’ scoring production is reliant on the team’s guards forcing help and creating space for them to finish.

This all goes to say that, with how UVA is playing right now, they’re an incredibly matchup-dependent group. Yes, the Wahoos played worse against Duke than they did against UNC and Clemson. But a glaring reason why that happened is because the Blue Devils are far superior defensively than those two squads. If an opponent has palpable size and length in the front-court that can force Virginia’s guards to hit shots and can prevent them from capitalizing on touching the paint, the ‘Hoos are going to struggle to score barring some drastic reversion in shooting form.

Ben Vander Plas’ absence makes its mark

With all that said, boy it would’ve been nice to have Ben Vander Plas healthy for this game. In games one and two of the ACC Tournament we got a look at why Kadin Shedrick and Ryan Dunn deserved more time and opportunities on the floor because of how much they thrive on defense and how they can complement Virginia’s guards relatively well on offense.

Against Duke, Vander Plas’ purpose on this team and the hole that his injury has left was more evident. Who knows how this game would’ve played out if BVP was healthy. Maybe if he had been and Virginia didn’t get Kadin Shedrick back on track against UNC and Clemson the Cavaliers don’t even make it this far. But, for this individual contest, being able to throw him into the game to at least try to alter how Duke defended the Wahoo offense would’ve been a relief.

Being able to pull Duke’s centers out of the paint and onto the perimeter could have been a saving grace for the UVA offense against Duke. Sure, maybe the team is then worse on defense, but it’s undeniable that letting BVP fire away some from three would have given Virginia an absolutely necessary boost and would’ve meant they would’ve scored better than the .845 points per possession they did by forcing Duke to adapt to them some rather than letting John Scheyer’s team dictate what UVA did. Obviously, these are all hypotheticals that we’ll never have the answers to. But it’s something worth watching moving forward as Virginia approaches the NCAA Tournament and their opponents will no doubt attempt to recreate Duke’s success.

Wahoo defense plays about as well as it could’ve

All this offensive doom gloom did assuredly dominate the narrative throughout this game and rightfully is the leading storyline afterwards. But UVA does absolutely deserve credit for the team’s defensive performance.

After he scored in double figures for six straight games, Tyrese Proctor could do nearly nothing against Reece Beekman, scoring just five points, shooting 1-6 from the field, and registering a paltry two assists relative to the 7.5 per game he was averaging in Greensboro.

Yes, Kyle Filipowski scored 20 points and had a double-double. But he only did so on 17 shots (8-17 from the field, 1-5 from deep). He played far, far better than he did in his 0-point outing against Virginia back in February. Yet the Cavaliers made him earn everything and didn’t let his production alone beat them. Filipowski and Jeremy Roach were the only two Blue Devils to score more than five points. Granted, Roach scored a game-high 23 on 7-12 shooting overall, 2-2 from beyond the arc, and 7-7 from the charity stripe. He was dialed in for all of his 39 minutes and he bullied Kihei Clark in their individual matchup.

Again, though, Virginia did enough defensively to win this game. Holding Duke to 1.0 points per possession considering how they’ve been playing of late is legitimately impressive. The Blue Devils had their best (adjusted) offensive performances of the season in the two previous games, scoring 1.466 raw PPP vs Pittsburgh and 1.278 versus Miami. Shedrick and Dunn continue to be absolute positives defensively and this backcourt can only be beaten by the best of individual shot-makers. That alone will make them a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

UVA’s still in solid shape heading into March Madness

Losing to Duke in the ACC Championship stinks. Not winning another conference title is a bummer. The way this game played out left a lot to be desired, and the team altogether underperformed in the biggest game of the season so far.

And yet, Virginia’s still sitting in roughly the same spot it was 24 hours ago with regards to the NCAA Tournament. Those results against borderline tournament teams Clemson and North Carolina weren’t flukes, and this final score doesn’t alter what we knew about this team. The pieces are absolutely all still there to make a run to the second weekend and, maybe, beyond.

Undoubtedly, the draw UVA gets will be critical. We saw what a bad matchup did to the Wahoos in this game. This loss could drop Virginia down to the five-seed line and, whether it does or not, they should be getting a tough first round matchup either way. Don’t get me wrong, an early upset could still absolutely happen. The Vander Plas injury limits UVA’s versatility and does box them into a bit of a corner that opponents with proper length up front and a coaching staff that recognizes Virginia’s faults can exploit.

But, I’ll say it again, the pieces are still there. The Wahoo backcourt laid a stinker against a Duke team that tons of people will be picking to make a run and UVA still only lost by ten. If the team had merely shot its season average (now 35.3%) from three, this would’ve been a four-point loss. There’s real talent and defensive tenacity in the front-court, the experience of the team’s “big four” of Clark, Gardner, Franklin, and Beekman is real, and this group has already displayed a proficiency for adjusting from poor results. Counting them out from anything after this tough loss would be naive. The biggest test for this UVA team is still to come.