Getting revenge for an ugly road loss just twelve days ago, the Virginia Cavaliers beat back the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC Quarterfinals by a 68-59 final score. Sending UNC to the NIT just like the Heels did to UVA in the quarterfinals last March, the Wahoos pick up a big momentum win and are now two wins away from an ACC Tournament Championship.
With the victory, we have five takeaways for the team moving forward.
UVA’s 12-day turnaround has been extreme
After that loss in Chapel Hill just twelve days ago, the state of this team looked pretty darn bleak. Coming off back-to-back losses where Virginia wasn’t necessarily competitive, the struggles were real. At that point, the Cavaliers hadn’t played a truly quality game since beating Duke two weeks prior on February 11th.
But, by switching back to relying on their mover-blocker offense, battening down the hatches defensively, and altering lineups particularly in the front-court, the ‘Hoos are definitively back on track heading into the ACC Tournament Semifinals. Tony Bennett and his staff deserve immense credit for the adjustments they’ve made and so do the individual players who’ve simply played better and closer to their actual talent level than they did during that bad stretch in February,
Reece Beekman steps up when Virginia needs him most
In the last seven games of the regular season, Reece Beekman averaged 6.3 points per game while shooting 28.8% from the field and 23.5% from three-point range. Against the Tar Heels tonight, Beekman was the offense’s spark, especially in the first half. Scoring 15 points on 4-7 shooting from two-point range, 1-4 from three, and 4-6 from the line, Beekman also added five assists, three rebounds, and didn’t turn the ball over once.
"Everybody did their part tonight and we got a big win!" - @reece_beekman #GoHoos pic.twitter.com/fuTpyHiigZ— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) March 10, 2023
Defensively, the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year registered an insane five steals as he held Caleb love to 3-15 shooting from the floor. He even switched onto RJ Davis for stretches in the second half as he helped to slow down the UNC guard after a 12-point, 5-6 first half.
While we’ve become accustomed to those types of performances on defense, Beekman being aggressive as a scorer has been a truly lacking element of this offense since earlier in the season, before he dealt with a string of injuries. The way he attacked the basket against North Carolina and essentially forced Hubert Davis to bench the hampered Armando Bacot by destroying him in ball screens was beautiful. Beekman finished well at the rim and got the offense going after UVA scored just five points in the first 9:35 of the game.
If Beekman can produce like this offensively on a consistent, game-to-game basis in the postseason, that immediately raises UVA’s ceiling. At his best, he is Virginia’s best player on either side of the ball who can take games over. It’s been months since he’s been that player. But, this performance against North Carolina could very well be a sign that he’s getting back to it.
Kadin Shedrick is back
Speaking of returning to early season form, Kadin Shedrick was phenomenal against North Carolina in a bounce back game for the ages. The pregame news that Ben Vander Plas is out for the season with a broken right hand indicated that Shedrick, among others, would have to step up in the absence of the Ohio transfer.
Despite not having played since that last game against UNC nearly two weeks ago and only having played more than 15 minutes once in the last 15 games, Shedrick answered the call in a major way against North Carolina. In 19 minutes, he scored four points on 2-3 shooting and made his presence felt in a major way defensively with five blocks. Throughout the game he impressed on that end as his mobility guarding ball screens combined with his physicality in the paint against Bacot and Pete Nance made life far easier for the rest of his team on defense.
Shedrick may have finished with four fouls, but some were ticky tacky from a crew officiating a UNC game in the state of North Carolina. More notably, he played with those four fouls for 6:01 of the final 7:40 of game play (as Bennett substituted offense for defense in the closing minutes), registering three blocks in that timespan as he provided incredibly valuable rim protection and size on the interior, while largely avoiding the silly errors that lost him opportunities earlier in the season.
Semifinals bound!— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) March 10, 2023
⚔️ #GoHoos pic.twitter.com/5uJXXvCuwE
Similarly to Beekman, a Shedrick emergence in the postseason would be a monumental development for UVA. Especially with Vander Plas out, consistent, solid play from Shedrick makes this team eons better than it is without him. He changes the equation for the team defense when he plays well and his threat as a finisher on offense is valuable particularly now that the team has gone back to playing sides and gone away from the inside triangle offense that didn’t suit him.
Virginia wins despite continuing to struggle to shoot
Scoring 1.193 raw points per possession, the UVA offense was altogether efficient on the night despite still struggling to hit from deep. Shooting 4-15 or 26.7% from three as a team, Virginia found other ways to score the ball against the Tar Heels.
14 points off turnovers with 11 tallies in transition were evidence of how disruptive Virginia’s defense can be with Beekman and Shedrick playing well, and of how that defense can generate offense. UVA’s 28 points in the paint indicate Beekman’s success at getting to the rim and point to Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin’s solid nights.
Gardner registered a double-double with 17 points (5-11 from the field and 7-8 from the line) and 10 rebounds as he eventually found a decent rhythm from the midrange and did well attacking the basket and drawing contact in the second half. He was also stout defensively against Pete Nance as he had a pair of steals and a block. It’s impressive how quietly Gardner can have quality performances. His 7-8 night from the charity stripe was also nice to see as his 68.6% success rate at the line this season has been below expectations.
Franklin, while shooting just 1-5 from three, shot 5-8 from two-point range as he hit a couple nice midrange shots and found ways to exploit matchups against Carolina’s smaller guards. The three turnovers he had were frustrating. But, in typical old-guard fashion, he bounced back well and had a number of clutch plays late in the game to maintain UVA’s lead.
Ideally, UVA’s three-point shooting will return to form before too long. In the meantime, it’s good to see the Cavaliers find ways to win on offense without it.
Wahoo defense forces UNC to shoot over them
The ankle injury that Armando Bacot suffered against Boston College on Wednesday absolutely played a part in the UVA defense limiting UNC’s potency in the paint. But that doesn’t wholly take away from how Virginia forced North Carolina’s guards to beat them.
Bacot (who dominated against UVA last season) and Nance (who had a field day against the ‘Hoos in Chapel Hill two weeks ago) combined for just 11 points on 4-11 shooting in this game. With Shedrick playing well, Francisco Caffaro complementing him well in guarding Bacot, and both Gardner and Dunn being solid when called upon against Nance, UVA forced Caleb Love and RJ Davis to run the show on offense.
As he is prone to do, Beekman largely took Love (11 points, 3-15 from the field. 2-10 from three) out of the game and placed most of the burden on RJ Davis. For a little while, Davis looked set to win the Heels the game as he shot over Kihei Clark well and put together a nice 24-point (8-14, 4-8) night. Alas, UVA wore him down on either end over the course of the game. By making him the only real option for the Tar Heel offense, the Wahoos exhausted him to the point that he couldn’t do it all by himself.
UVA will likely come up against better offenses in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. But the way the Wahoos limited what North Carolina wanted to do on offense was reminiscent of Bennett teams of old. Vander Plas’ injury is an absolute bummer and will hurt this team on offense. But his absence does force more defensively inclined players such as Shedrick and Dunn to play and produce more. So far, they’ve answered the call. Again, truer tests are still to come. Yet this victory is nothing if not encouraging when assessing Virginia’s postseason potential.