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Five takeaways from UVA basketball’s bounce back win over Louisville

What we learned from a much needed win.

Louisville v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

After getting embarrassed on Saturday against Notre Dame, the Virginia Cavaliers handled their business against the Louisville Cardinals on Wednesday night and won 77-53 against Kenny Payne’s struggling squad. With the win, we have five takeaways for the ‘Hoos moving forward.

Virginia gets its much needed bounce back win

Saturday was ugly. This game was a critical breath of fresh air. Shooting 10-26 from three (38.5%), 30-58 (51.7%) from the field, out-rebounding the Cardinals 34-27, assisting on 66.7% of their buckets, and putting in a 20:3 assist to turnover ratio was simply good to see for the Wahoos in this one. Yes, Louisville is a bad team. But UVA got schooled by a bad team four days ago. So righting the ship and putting the bad vibes to bed (for now) is notable.

Especially for a young team that is still finding its way, avoiding a string of bad results and seeing the literal and proverbial ball go through the hoop is not nothing. There are going to be much stiffer tests to come. But knowing they can perform like this and doing it again against ACC competition is a nice pick-me-up before hitting the road for the next two contests.

Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn wake up at home

Probably the two biggest positive developments in this game were the performances from Ryan Dunn and Isaac McKneely on offense. Neither was objectively bad against Notre Dame. But those two dominating affairs for stretches of the game in various ways offensively was significant because of how reliant Virginia has been on Reece Beekman to make plays for most of this season.

McKneely (18 points, 7-11 from the floor, 4-7 from three, two assists, zero turnovers) and Dunn (15 points, 7-8 from the floor, 1-3 from the line, 10 rebounds, three blocks, one steal) were UVA’s leading scorers and did what they do best all game long.

Dunn impressed as a shot creator as much as he ever has, scoring from the mid-post on a couple possessions and generating some unexpected points as a result. Even if he’s not doing it as an outside shooter, if he can continue to be a plus on offense and contribute to generating good looks, then this team will be much better off.

From a wider lens, Virginia asks a lot of McKneely and Dunn despite them each only being 45 games into their college careers. They’re the second and third best/most important players on the team after Reece Beekman, and they’re somehow also already the second and third most experienced players in the Bennett system. They’re graded on a steep curve at a young age, so it’s reasonable that there will be some games where they perform to that high standard, and others where they don’t.

Ideally for the Wahoos, by the time their 60th (or so) games roll around, the experience that comes with this season’s ACC schedule will mean that they are performing to that standard on a more consistent basis.

Taine Murray adds a nice boost off the bench

Time for me to eat crow! I didn’t give junior Taine Murray enough respect leading into this season, and he put me and any other other Taine-doubters on notice against Louisville with his second career double-digit scoring performance. Shooting 5-6 from the field and 2-3 from deep for 12 points, the Kiwi provided a really nice scoring and shooting boost off the bench.

In Dante Harris’ absence, UVA has struggled to find offensive production from its backcourt depth. But Murray succeeded at adding that against the Cardinals, consistently winning with his intelligent off-ball movement, nifty finishes around the rim, and improved shooting stroke from the perimeter.

Murray is not going to play a major role on this team. Yet he’s proven himself entirely capable of being a rotational contributor who can get hot from time to time. He doesn’t make mistakes on either end of the floor, understands what he can and can’t do, and thrives in the role he plays. Players like that can win you games, and Murray was a big part of winning this one.

The Dunn-Groves-Buchanan combo provides a lift

Virginia hasn’t played much real “big-ball” this season. In fact, among pairs of players on this team, Jake Groves and Blake Buchanan had played the second fewest number of possessions together of any other pair of Wahoos. The only combo who had played fewer? Jordan Minor and walk-on Bryce Walker.

Against Louisville, however, Groves and Buchanan played together for a whopping 14:54 of game time with Ryan Dunn on the floor for the majority of the minutes as well. That’s just about the biggest frontcourt lineup that UVA can put on the floor, and it paid off with Dunn able to exploit his superior size offensively, Groves capable of matching the physicality and size at the four while also stretching the floor on offense, and Buchanan solidifying the paint some defensively and being a threat off the pick and roll.

If Buchanan (six points, 2-5 from the floor, 2-3 from the line) can grow more comfortable catching and finishing around the basket, this combo of players alongside Reece Beekman and one of the Wahoo shooting guards is a fun, different look for the Cavaliers to throw out there. Being able to beat teams in different ways is critical in college basketball and, if the pieces fall into place, this lineup could provide the foundation for a new one for Virginia this season.

The home and away splits are real and relevant

Almost all of Virginia’s bad performances this season have come away from home. Save the Northeastern win following the 11-day exam break, UVA is on average +25.1 points at home. Away from home that number falls to -12.8. Granted that includes games against a lot of bad teams at home (Louisville included), but Virginia also lost by 22 to a bad Notre Dame team on the road.

This is particularly relevant at the moment because the ‘Hoos now face a pair of tough road tests in the next 10 days. First up is 9-3 NC State on Saturday before UVA heads to Winston Salem to play 10-3 Wake Forest a week later.

If Virginia can come out of those two contests 2-0, that would say a lot about progress being made for this young roster performing in unfriendly environments. Depending on how the games unfold, 1-1 would be fine. Yet 0-2 would dig UVA a real hole within the conference standings and in their case to make the NCAA Tournament.