Virginia men’s basketball’s loss at Wake Forest on Saturday was their fourth loss in the last six games, dropping them to 11-5 on the season and 2-3 in ACC play. Stout defense kept the ‘Hoos in the game in the first half, but the Cavaliers offense never figured things out, eventually leading to an all-too-familiar blowout loss on the road.
Stock up, stock neutral, stock down from another frustrating loss:
I omitted Jordan Minor from last week’s stock-up, stock-down despite some late-game buckets, because I really didn’t see him taking on a substantial role in the near future. I was wrong. Minor got the start against Wake Forest in the latest of Bennett’s lineup shakeups, as the Hoos continued to search for answers to their inconsistent play. For the most part, Minor exceeded expectations in his 22 minutes of game action. He boxed out well against Wake’s seven-footer Efton Reid, tallying five rebounds. He also set solid screens and converted on several pick-and-rolls, finishing at the rim through contact on his way to a season-high 9 points. It wasn’t all pretty— Minor had a few ugly misses and mental lapses— but considering how the rest of Minor’s season has been, this game was absolutely positive for the 5th year senior. More important than his statistical lines, Minor fought hard throughout the game while the rest of the team looked completely lackluster. Minor’s hard work at practice and his performance this game should earn him more than garbage-time minutes going forward.
The Hoos were down 17 at the time, but Minor getting the steal and going coast-to-coast for the and-one layup was an awesome sight.
Rohde came off from the bench for the first time this season, after a cold stretch shooting and insufficient play-making over the last few games. He responded well, making his first three shots including two difficult runners off the glass. With Beekman in foul trouble and a team-wide inability to score, Rohde logged 31 minutes, notching a couple of assists, but missing on all of his three-point tries. At this point in the season, it’s clear that Rohde isn’t yet capable of providing the scoring volume that optimistic Virginia fans hoped for, but the young guard has shown enough comfortability in the offense to keep a steady role throughout the season.
Bond didn’t shoot the ball well. His signature mid-range pull-ups were off the mark all game. But he earned 21 minutes off the bench because he hustled all game, making scrappy plays on defense and fighting for every offensive rebound. His defensive upside, rebounding, and athleticism should warrant a steady spot in the lineup. Unfortunately, his poor outside shooting has kept him on the bench in a lot of games.
Virginia attempted just 12 three pointers on Saturday. Instead, they resorted to mid-range jumpers, shooting over half of their total shots from mid-range (31 of 57 attempts). This isn’t a recipe for success against competent college basketball teams in this day and age. Virginia’s offense relies on three-point shot making, a core element of the mover-blocker offense which is supposed to create space for wings to curl off screens and hit catch-and-shoot threes. Unfortunately, the open shooting windows haven’t consistently been there, and even when they are, Virginia isn’t capitalizing. Teams now know to key in on McKneely, and his scorching hot streak has cooled off now that he’s been stifled from the three-point line. The Cavaliers need to be shooting around 20 threes per game and hitting on a 35% clip or better if their offense is going to break out of this slump.
The Big Three (Beekman, Dunn, McKneely)
Last week, I placed Virginia’s big three in the “Stock Neutral” category despite solid statistical lines because most of their production came in the second half of a blowout loss. Against Wake Forest, the big three couldn’t get anything going even when the game got out of hand. McKneely didn’t score for the first 10 minutes, and many of his shots felt like forced looks in an effort to generate some sort of momentum for the Cavaliers offense. Beekman was the only Virginia player to score in double figures, but he shot the ball badly going just 3-12 from the field. Some sloppy, uncharacteristic fouls forced Beekman to the bench early, though he still logged significant minutes, trying to lead the lifeless Virginia squad. Lastly, Dunn played his worst game in a while, scoring 4 points on 1-4 shooting with 1 rebound. He was a complete non-factor for most of the game on offense. The Hoos need Dunn to hunt shots, attacking the hoop early and often as their best basket-cutter. The Big Three need to prove they’re still a Big Three starting Wednesday versus Virginia Tech.
The promising signs shown from Buchanan last week against NC State did not carry over against Wake Forest. Buchanan looked apprehensive on offense, badly missing a pair of wide-open mid-range shots and setting weak screens without any desire to get the ball back on the roll. After starting the game against NC State and playing 23 minutes, Buchanan only played 8 minutes off the bench at Wake, scoring 0 points. Buchanan has improved on the defensive end over the course of the season, but the 18 point scoring breakout against Florida seems ages ago in light of the freshman’s play the last few months.
It pains me to write this, and it by no means changes my overall stance on Bennett as the unequivocal leader of the Virginia basketball program, but Bennett’s struggled to figure this UVA team out. Yes, the team is young. Yes, it’s still early January. But over the past month, Virginia’s lost four games, all blowout losses, some against middle or lower-tier ACC opponents. Bennett’s failed to figure out a successful lineup rotation. Offensive production has plummeted in recent weeks, no matter what offensive base the Hoos employ. Even with two potential NBA draftees and a sharpshooter in Isaac McKneely, quality, open-looks on offense are hard to come by. If Virginia maintains this quality of play as ACC season progresses, Bennett needs to reevaluate the sets that Virginia runs, perhaps making more significant changes to his regimented approach than he has at any point in the last decade.