After a concerning blowout loss against Notre Dame, the Virginia Cavaliers responded with a breezy 77-53 win over ACC bottom feeder Louisville at John Paul Jones Arena. Reece Beekman orchestrated the offense with 11 points and eight assists, while Isaac McKneely contributed an efficient 18 points in just 19 minutes and Taine Murray chipped in with 12 off the bench.
Stock up, stock down from an expected yet encouraging win:
Murray made some impressive passes off the dribble for open threes in his limited minutes and finished two really nice dribble-drives while the game still hung somewhat in the balance. He also knocked down two three-pointers and finished with 12 points on an almost perfect 5-6 shooting from the field in a near-flawless offensive performance tarnished only by a late air-ball in garbage time. He might’ve earned a few more minutes going forward in ACC play with a stellar outing.
Ryan Dunn attacked the basket with refreshing aggressiveness in the first half, finishing all five of his attempts at the rim. Dunn’s shots are typically set up by other players, but he also demonstrated some uncharacteristic self-creation tonight. To be sure Dunn did benefit from two lob passes by Reece Beekman, though he did adjust nicely to dunk a misplaced fast-break alley-oop, but he also created off the dribble on a few occasions: Dunn beat his man off the dribble for a goaltended layup attempt, posted up after a timeout for an and-one, and knocked down a nice fadeaway as the shot clock expired. Some smart cutting also produced a few other buckets, such as a second-half slam after his man drifted to help off onto Blake Buchanan.
Everyone knows about the defensive impact — including Louisville, who were generally content to settle for tough contested threes over Dunn rather than risk turning it over or getting blocked at the rim (Dunn still finished with three blocks and one steal). But flashes of offensive improvement matter more going forward. There’s still plenty of room to grow (that 1-3 from the line is a good starting point), but Dunn showed a few flashes tonight.
Virginia’s offense against zones
Shredding zone defense is never an issue for Virginia — not even this year with their 156th-ranked KenPom offense. Kenny Payne threw a 2-3 at a Virginia lineup low on shooting (Gertrude-Beekman-Bond-Murray-Buchanan) and inexplicably remained in the set once UVA’s firepower — McKneely, Groves, Rohde — re-entered the game. Predictably, Beekman and Rohde shredded the zone from the free throw line for a lob over to the top to Dunn and a few nice kick-outs for easy three-point looks.
In the second half, Louisville went to zone and Isaac McKneely immediately knocked down a three from the wing. You just can’t do that against this Virginia squad; facing a zone minimizes the weaknesses of the Hoos and accentuates their strengths.
The box score numbers (eight points on nine shots) don’t pop off the page for Rohde, but they undersell his impact. The second-year held up very well against Louisville guards who appeared inclined to try and take him off the dribble, forcing tough shots off the dribble on nearly every single possession. Rohde also worked effectively as a connective passer against the zone, keeping the ball moving during some impressive passing sequences in the first half. His off-ball offensive impact and impressive outing defensively place Rohde in the stock up section. And while his handle still isn’t exactly visually appealing, his ability to bring it up against an early second-half man press bodes well for the future.
This wasn’t really a “stock up” game — we already knew McKneely could absolutely shoot the lights out against soft defense. However, it’s hard to leave the leading scorer in a blowout victory out of this section. Despite foul trouble limiting IMac to just 19 minutes, the sharpshooter finished with 18 points on 7-11 shooting (4-7 from three).
It’s been almost all downhill for Buchanan’s performances since his early outbreak against Florida. Tonight, he entered the game early in the first half with an opportunity to succeed against an undersized and undermanned Louisville team. Schematically, the move worked: Virginia’s guards effectively worked the ball to Buchanan down low, oftentimes with mismatches against Skyy Clark or Mike James. Buchanan couldn’t capitalize on those good looks, though, struggling to score over smaller players or recognize when he was open around the basket; at one point late in the first half, the crowd was shocked Buchanan passed up an open dunk for a kick-out pass, and on a similar play he missed a wide open Jake Groves in the corner to attempt a tough hook.
The second half didn’t go much better. He over-hedged on a screen to allow an eventual and-one to the roll man, got blocked on an open dunk by a 6’0 player , and committed two silly fouls all before the first media timeout. Buchanan will be a very good player for Virginia, but he’s not there yet.
Virginia’s offense against man-to-man defenses
The two schemes the Cavaliers have for straight-up man defenses, sides and triangle, both remain stuck in the mud. They get ball-handlers moving away from the basket and don’t put them in positions to get downhill; sides encourages moving jump shots while triangle allows for midrange creation off the dribble, but neither scheme manufactures truly good shots or puts players in advantageous situations with the current personnel.
When someone (typically McKneely) gets confident and attacks offensively, the systems can work, but too often the works get gummed up and the Cavaliers look stuck on the offensive end. Not every team will play as soft defensively as Louisville, and even that 200th-ranked unit held up against the Cavaliers in man-to-man for the better part of the two halves until the wheels fell off late in the game. While hot shooting late and a strong performance against zone meant the Cavaliers finished with a respectable 77 points, there’s still reason to be concerned about the offense.