TOBIN: Virginia men’s basketball needs an aggressive Guy

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Sophomore guard Kyle Guy scored a career-high 29 points in Virginia's road win over VCU. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

Heading into last season, the defensive-minded Virginia men’s basketball team always had a guy who could score. Whether it was Joe Harris, Justin Anderson or Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett knew whom to turn to in order to inject life into Virginia’s slow-paced offense.

Last season, though, Virginia simply did not have that go-to player. And the Cavaliers suffered greatly because of it. Averaging 66.1 points per game — roughly five fewer than the team had in the 2015-16 season — Virginia failed to remain competitive when their defense fell apart against superior offenses. Look no further than the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last year, in which the team only put up a pitiful 39 points on 16-54 shooting in a devastating loss to Florida. And, to make things worse, then-redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite — who finished the season fourth to last in scoring for the Cavaliers — led all Virginia scorers with a whopping nine points.

The Cavaliers never found someone who could put up points last season. While then-senior point guard London Perrantes needed to be that guy, he simply could not deliver — leading his team with a low average of 12.7 points per game. Without an aggressive, drive-to-the-rim or pull-up-and-shoot scorer, Virginia failed to find any sort of offensive momentum.

However, with two double-digit performances, a man-bun-less Kyle Guy seems to be changing the tide this season.

Arguably one of the most talented recruits the program has fielded in a while, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball and Cavalier sophomore guard showed promise in his first season. Guy averaged 7.5 points per game and shot nearly 50 percent from downtown, contributing solid minutes off the bench. While never a stout defender, Guy proved to be an asset on a lethargic offense.

Heading into the offseason, Guy was not the Cavalier faithful’s pick to run the offense for the 2017-18 season, though. That should have been guard Marial Shayok, the second-highest scorer on the team who put on a brilliant career-high 23-point performance against UNC Wilmington in the 2017 March Madness’ first round. However, with Shayok announcing his transfer from Virginia in March and eventually landing at Iowa State, Guy received an opportunity to step up for Virginia. And he hasn’t disappointed yet.

As a starter this season, Guy has averaged 15 points through the Cavaliers’ first two games. Additionally, he is leading the team with 8.5 field goal attempts per game — a vast improvement from his six-attempt average last season. By taking more shots, Guy is not only upping the tempo for a Virginia team that desperately needed a quicker pace, but also he is attracting tighter coverage as opponents know his potent scoring abilities when left with an open shot. This heavier coverage on Guy allows for the rest of the Cavaliers to receive better looks on the floor — thereby increasing Virginia’s offensive productivity.

Guy’s dramatic increase in free throw attempts is also indicative of his improved style of play. Last season, Guy went to the charity stripe 35 times in 34 games. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis native has taken 13 shots from the free throw line through only two games this season. Guy took 10 free throws in Virginia’s home opener against UNC Greensboro — six more trips to the line than he had in any single game last season. 

These free throw attempts are absolutely vital for Virginia. Averaging only 13.9 attempts per game last season, the Cavaliers finished 349 out of 351 teams in this category. This ranking was indicative of a larger problem for the Cavaliers — nobody would put his head down and drive to the rim. However, as evidenced by the number of free throw shots he has been awarded, Guy has provided Virginia with much-needed aggression in the paint. Inside play and free buckets from the line are both integral for successful teams, and Guy is helping Virginia improve in both respects.

Taking more shots and attracting fouls aren’t the only ways in which Guy has played assertively. Rather than being one of the team’s worst defensive players, as he was last season, he has aggressively pursued the ball. Guy had a career-high three steals against UNC Greensboro and is averaging 2.5 per game on the season — a far cry from the underwhelming 0.4 average he had last season. Currently leading the team in steals, Guy went from being one of the team’s largest defensive liabilities to one of its best defensive assets.

Being unranked for the first time since February 2014, Virginia has a lot to prove this season. The Cavaliers have certainly played well so far, earning two impressive victories. However, with tough nonconference games coming up and even tougher ACC matchups down the road, the team must keep pace with its opponents’ potent offenses. Guy needs to keep up his aggression and lead the charge in order for Virginia to have any sort of success.

Ben Tobin is an Assistant Managing Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.tobin@cavalierdaily.com or on Twitter at @TobinBen. 

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