TOBIN: Early tournament exit should be wake-up call for Virginia
There’s no need to beat around the bush — last night was the most unwatchable game I have ever seen Virginia men’s basketball play.
With a 21-0 run between the first and second halves, Florida completely knocked the wind out of Virginia. The team’s famous pack line defense could not stop the Gators, and its offense was exceptionally terrible — shooting a season-low 29.6 percent from the field and lacking a single player who could score in double digits. In scoring 39 points, Virginia not only had its worst offensive performance of the season — it had its worst offensive performance since December of 2013.
It’s not an understatement to say Virginia took a shellacking from Florida. However, this season has provided lots of downs for a Cavalier team that has been lackluster compared to seasons past. With only one senior in London Perrantes, the Cavaliers needed a wake-up call if they want to improve next season — and this game certainly provided it.
“I probably made some mistakes in this game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said following the loss. “I've got to go back to the drawing board and figure out where we can tighten things up and be better.”
While Virginia can hang its hat on defense — holding opponents to a national-best 56.4 points per game on average — the team never found a true offensive identity all season. Scoring an average of 66.1 points per game, the team finished No. 314 in the nation in scoring offense. Perrantes was the only double digit scorer on the team with 12.7 points per game. This season marks the first time this century that Virginia has not had two or more scorers averaging double digits.
To be fair, Virginia has had to overcome major setbacks. First, losing Malcolm Brogdon — the team’s top scorer for the three previous seasons — was going to inevitably pose a challenge for the Cavaliers. Additionally, Bennett’s dismissal of junior transfer Austin Nichols meant Virginia was left without a major post scorer and rebounder, taking away a big element of the team’s offense.
While Virginia’s offense was expected to perform worse given these setbacks, a majority of the players completely underperformed. Junior guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson — arguably the team’s most athletic players — could not find any consistency, shining one game and disappearing the next. Sophomore center Jack Salt started every game but hardly played like his 6-foot-11 frame — only managing 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 points per game. Freshman guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome took too many shots and didn’t pull the trigger enough, respectively.
None of these players needed to be the next Brogdon or Joe Harris for the team to thrive. However, each one of them needed to do more. The Florida rout proved this point.
When Virginia went down to Florida 17-31 at the end of the first half, the team needed everyone to step up to get back into the game. Similar to when Virginia was down in other games throughout the season, this did not happen. Shayok — who had shown his true potential by putting up a career-high 23 points against UNC-Wilmington in the first round — completely disappeared against the Gators, putting up seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. Hall, Jerome and Guy finished with goose eggs on the night, and Perrantes struggled to buy a bucket.
Virginia’s offensive struggles were prevalent all season, though. In an overtime match against Miami, Virginia managed to score only 48 points on 31.4 percent and lost despite holding the Hurricanes to 54 points. Against North Carolina, the team lost 65-41 behind a poor 27.8 percent shooting effort. Time and again — with a lack of ball movement — the Cavaliers fell into a habit of settling for bad looks. The type of loss to Florida is nothing Virginia fans hadn’t previously witnessed.
Hopefully, this embarrassing loss will push the Cavalier returners to work hard in the offseason and return next season with a vengeance. If Virginia wants to be a national contender once again, then it must have more of an aggressive offensive scheme. The team cannot expect to win games if it doesn’t persistently drive to the hoop and move the ball around all parts of its opponent’s court.
Obviously, no Virginia fan wanted to see the Cavaliers get routed to the Gators. However, this early tournament exit should serve as a necessary wake-up call for a team that has struggled all season. Let’s just hope Virginia hears it.
Ben Tobin is an Assistant Managing Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TobinBen.