The Virginia Cavaliers basketball team got revenge against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their 65-53 victory on Wednesday. In doing so, they extended their ACC winning streak to five games, and the nation’s longest home winning streak to 22 games. It was quite the opposite of the embarrassing 76-54 defeat the ‘Hoos suffered against the Irish in South Bend. The offense clicked all game, highlighted by a remarkable three-point shooting night. Here are five takeaways from Virginia’s inspiring home win.
The ‘Hoos splash a season-high 13 threes
The Cavaliers couldn’t miss from downtown against the Irish. They hit 9 threes in the first half alone, getting open looks left and right in their half-court offense. At times it has felt like Isaac McKneely is the only reliable shooter, but tonight the entire supporting cast showed out, most notably Jake Groves who hit six threes. Reece Beekman shot 4/6 from three and Isaac McKneely finished 3/5.
Virginia’s had a difficult time generating quality three-point shots in their mover-blocker offense against high major competition. Hopefully, tonight’s performance isn’t a one-time thing, and the ‘Hoos will continue to produce this rate of open three-point attempts going forward. The offense is at its worst when players are run off the three-point line and forced into taking late shot-clock mid-range jumpers.
Three-point shooting will be pivotal as Virginia faces tougher competition in the back half of their ACC schedule. Without a dominant interior presence on offense, they will need to hit the open threes at a high clip. Isaac McKneely is sensational, but Virginia can only go so far if he’s the only one shooting efficiently from three-point range.
Jake Groves catches fire to lift the ‘Hoos
Jake Groves scored in double-figures for the first time since 2023 with an 18 point performance against the Irish. He buried his first 4 three-point attempts of the game in the first half — providing a much needed offensive spark — and hit 6 threes on the night.
After starting in 11 of the first 15 games, Jake Groves has come off the bench in the last five games in part because of Jordan Minor’s exceptional play. In just 12 minutes of action against Louisville last game, Groves knocked down 3 three-pointers. He’s getting hot at the right time for the Cavaliers, especially considering the recent shooting struggles from everyone not named McKneely. His ability to pop off of screens and fire off threes near the top of the key makes it incredibly difficult for less-mobile bigs to defend him.
Even more impressive than his shooting, Groves was active and impressive on the defensive end. Defending in the paint has been his greatest weakness, but Groves worked his tail off against Notre Dame’s bigs all night. His coverage forced multiple turnovers, some ill-advised shot attempts, and he record a block and a steal. If Groves continues this hot-streak, the Virginia front court may actually run into the issue of having too much depth.
Tony Bennett’s flexible rotation is a good thing
Bennett’s teams don’t normally play more than eight guys this late in the season, as he looks to tighten up the roster heading into March. Right now, he’s rotating between ten different guys. This year has featured more turnover in playing time than in any recent Virginia season. Some fans would find this lack of consistency concerning, but I believe it’s actually the best choice for this team.
This Cavaliers squad features many new faces, each with their own strengths that might shine on any given night. Early in the year it was Groves and Bond, Minor’s come on lately, and both Rohde and Murray have had their moments. By riding the hot hand, Bennett’s allowed players to earn their way into an increased role, instead of fixing the lineup with seven or eight steady rotation players.
Bennett’s coaching is reminiscent of an effective offensive coordinator in football. He figures out which players to feature, and adjusts the game plan accordingly based on what’s working. Tonight it was Jake Groves who earned substantial playing time. Conversely, Rohde had a tough night so he sat the bench a bit more than usual. For a coach whose system thrives on its stability, its encouraging to see Bennett mix things up this year as he navigates this complicated roster.
Virginia continues to protect the paint
Despite sporting one of the shorter rosters in the ACC, Virginia has done an excellent job defending the paint in the last few games. It all starts with Ryan Dunn. He’s the X-factor, game-wrecker, high-flyer, whose mere presence on the court forces opponents to think twice about attacking the paint.
The Fighting Irish stayed in the game by stroking three-pointers. Yet Virginia kept them at bay with their stellar interior defense. Jake Groves had his moments, Jordan Minor held his own, and Buchanan did a fantastic job contesting on drives. Notre Dame finished with just 18 points in the paint, and they seldom got great looks that weren’t second-chance shots.
This trend will be essential to monitor as the ‘Hoos prepare to face some of the ACC’s big-men over the next month. Virginia will have to be near perfect to limit the likes of Clemson’s PJ Hall, UNC’s Armando Bacot, and Duke’s Kyle Filipowski. The Cavaliers aren’t the biggest team down low, but the tenacity and effort they’ve shown in recent games should be encouraging for a unit that was gashed often in the first half of the season.
The ACC gauntlet is upon us
Virginia enters the most difficult part of their schedule beginning with their road game against Clemson on Saturday. In their final ten games, the ‘Hoos will play six of the top-ten teams in the ACC, including the powerhouses UNC and Duke. Fortunately, this will provide the team with a much needed opportunity to beef up their NCAA Tournament resume by racking up Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest rendition of Bracketology, he listed Virginia in the “Next Four Out” grouping.
The Cavaliers have played their way back into the media’s good graces, and if they knock off Clemson and Miami, they should find themselves in the projected NCAA Tournament field. The biggest question will be whether or not the team that no-showed in five blowout losses resurfaces against this stiffer competition. Hopefully that team is long since gone, and the ‘Hoos can pick-up some marquee wins that will get them back where they belong in March.