The Virginia Cavaliers basketball team captured a statement 60-38 win against the Miami Hurricanes tonight in primetime on ESPN. The ‘Hoos dominated from start to finish, on both ends of the floor. The win was Virginia’s 7th in a row, and their nation-leading 23rd straight home win. Back-to-back wins against Clemson and Miami prove that Virginia can handle the conferences best offenses. Here’s five takeaways from the blowout win for the ‘Hoos.
Virginia’s defense shuts down Miami’s fleet of guards
Coach Jim Larranaga has put the Miami Hurricanes back on the map these last few years in large part because of his exceptional guards. Tonight, Virginia made that guard tandem look like a Patriot League unit. Miami went 2-20 on three-point attempts, and they shot just 14-49 as a team, scoring a season low 38 points (Miami averages 80.8 ppg).
Nijel Pack, Miami’s veteran point guard, was held to 2 points and 0 made field-goals. Norchad Omier was the only Hurricane in double-figures with 11 points.
Each Virginia guard from top-to-bottom picked up the defensive intensity in this heavyweight matchup. Isaac McKneely intercepted a pass late in the first half, and dove for a loose-ball steal to close the half. Dante Harris, the shortest player on Virginia’s roster, recorded a block and a steal. It wasn’t just the one-man Reece Beekman show.
Heading into March, Virginia’s ability to limit opposing guards will be imperative. In March, guards win games. It’s going to take a unified effort to lock-in and ramp up the intensity in key matchups down the stretch. The ‘Hoos success today demonstrated that they are capable of holding down one of the nation’s most consistent guard groups.
Virginia’s bench excels in the win
The bench was awesome in tonight’s win. They combined for 23 points, with major contributions from Jake Groves (12 points) and Blake Buchanan (6 points, 2 blocks, and a steal). Bench production hasn’t always been reliable for the ‘Hoos, but tonight the bench was spectacular, giving everything they had for both halves.
Having guys step-up game-in-and-game-out off the bench provides a spark that ignites the flame. Virginia’s reliance on depth has established nine or ten guys who can be the difference-maker in big games. Come March, this will give the Cavaliers a significant advantage especially in the very brief turnarounds in ACC and NCAA Tournament play.
In blowout wins like tonight it’s easy to sub frequently and throw in all the different bench options. The biggest question for Virginia will be which five they guy with in close games at the end of the season. Outside of Beekman, McKneely, and Dunn, playing time has shifted dramatically from game-to-game. The ‘Hoos need to figure out the core 5 or 6 guys that can get it done late in games in order to be truly prepared for March.
Lack of turnovers keeps the ‘Hoos offense afloat
Even amidst this seven-game winning streak, Virginia’s offense hasn’t played particularly well. Per Bart Torvik’s metric, they rank 80th in the nation on offensive efficiency during that stretch (141st on the season). However, the one thing they’ve done remarkably well is limit turnovers.
Bennett’s teams always take care of the ball well, but this team has been phenomenal of late at making safe, smart decisions on offense. The ‘Hoos committed just 3 turnovers against Miami tonight. The offense didn’t always execute well, but they didn’t give Miami any easy transition looks off of bad turnovers.
Conversely, Virginia’s defense continues to turn opponents over at a high rate. Consistently winning the turnover battle makes up for droughts on offense. In tonight’s game, the Cavaliers went on three scoring spurts of 10-plus point runs, because they turned Miami over and capitalized on the other end. 15 points off of turnovers isn’t something to gloss over.
The BIG lineup gets it done
Over the last few games, Tony Bennett has begun to employ an all-height lineup, featuring Ryan Dunn at the 3 spot. Dunn is always paired with Jake Groves at the 4, in order to make up for the lack of three-point shooting with Dunn on the wing. In five minutes during the first half with Reece Beekman on the bench, Bennett pulled out the BIG lineup, and the ‘Hoos went on a 10-2 run.
This lineup isn’t seeing much more than 5-10 minutes per game, but at this point, it seems like it’s a little wrinkle that’s here to stay. The 3 spot has been one of the most inconsistent positions for Virginia this season. The combination of Andrew Rohde, Leon Bond, and Taine Murray have shown flashes, but lacked enough stability to inspire real confidence. With Dunn running some at the 3, the ‘Hoos add ridiculous length to their defense, a true rebounding advantage, and a different look to throw at opposing defenses.
At this point, the nine-man Virginia rotation has expanded enough to experiment with different lineup combinations in each game. As the Cavaliers prepare to face some big, talented teams like UNC and Duke, it will be interesting to monitor how often they pull out the all-height lineup.
Reece Beekman should be All-ACC First Team
Reece Beekman doesn’t have the same scoring numbers as some of the other top-guards in the ACC, but at this point, he’s undeniably an All-ACC first team level guard. He’s the catalyst of everything Virginia does on offense and defense. The Cavaliers are in 2nd place in the ACC because of Reece Beekman. Tonight against Miami, Beekman went for 16 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds.
He’s without a doubt the best defensive guard in the conference, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better passer. During Virginia’s winning streak, he’s averaged 15 ppg, 6.7 assists, and over 3 steals. He’s elevated his game when it matters most.
When the season was trending in the wrong direction for the ‘Hoos, Beekman stepped up to lead this squad of new faces and turn them into a top-tier ACC team. Only RJ Davis of UNC has had an arguably equal impact on a thriving ACC team. Beekman has shut down a plethora of the ACC’s best, from Judah Mintz, to Nijel Pack, to DJ Horne. He will have the chance to cement his case as the best guard in the ACC with matchups against RJ Davis and Duke’s Jeremy Roach still to come.
Ultimately, the award itself isn’t too insignificant, but Virginia fans need to appreciate and recognize just how great Beekman has been this season. If the Cavaliers find a way to pull of some March magic, than Beekman should go down as one of the best guards to ever don the blue-and-orange.