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Men’s basketball’s first trimester report card

Assessing the Cavaliers through their first 10 games this season

<p>Coach Tony Bennett has some considerable work to do if his team is going to compete for an ACC title.</p>

Coach Tony Bennett has some considerable work to do if his team is going to compete for an ACC title.

Through the first 10 games of the season, the Virginia men’s basketball team has had a shaky start to the season. After losing players like forward Sam Hauser, forward Jay Huff and guard Trey Murphy III, a new-look Cavalier team (6-4, 1-0 ACC) has had to come together for the 2021-2022 season.

Coming into the season, a big question loomed for the Cavaliers — where would the offense come from after losing their three top scorers in Hauser, Huff and Murphy? The trio combined for 40.3 points per game last year, just over 50 percent of the Cavaliers’ total scoring.

Transfer junior guard Armaan Franklin and transfer senior forward Jayden Gardner appeared to be likely candidates to fill that scoring role as the Cavaliers retooled their squad.

The defensive side of the ball has also been an unknown the last couple of seasons for Virginia. Following the departure of several upperclassmen, specifically the National Championship core of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, the Virginia defense has not felt the same.

Incoming and outgoing transfers and an overall lack of experience have made implementing the famous pack line defense harder for Coach Tony Bennett. As a result, after sputtering through their first 10 games, the Cavaliers still have yet to find their identity. There have been lots of ups and downs, and Bennett’s squad has some work to do.

Let’s get to the grades.

Offense

Overall: B-

The offense has had some positive moments this year, but it still needs some work. The Cavaliers are averaging 10.2 turnovers per game, 18th best in the NCAA. On a per-possession basis, Virginia turns it over 16.7 percent of the time — for reference, that number was 14.7 percent last season. Meanwhile, Virginia’s offensive efficiency is 0.998, which is right around the neutral 1.0 rating. There is definitely room for improvement for the Cavalier offense, which we will hopefully see as this Virginia team continues to grow.

Scoring: B-

The Cavaliers are shooting a rough 43.3 percent from the field while only averaging 61.0 points per game. Simply put, points have been hard to come by for Virginia. Gardner has established himself as the leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points per game through the first 10 contests. Franklin and senior guard Kihei Clark both average double digits, but the next highest scorer is sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick, averaging just 6.9 points per game. The Cavaliers will need to find ways to score, or this will be a long season.

Three-Point Shooting: C-

While there have been flashes of good shooting from deep at times this season, Virginia has not shot well from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers are shooting just 30.2 percent from beyond the three-point line, down almost eight percent from last year’s average of 38.1 percent. There have been a few small streaks of good three-point shooting that are promising. Virginia shot 50 percent against Iowa (9-18), 50 percent against Providence (6-12) and 47.4 percent against Radford (9-19). Besides those performances, there has been abysmal shooting. 

In their most recent loss against James Madison, the Cavaliers shot 15.4 percent from three (4-26), the lowest three-point shooting percentage for Virginia in 60 games. Not to mention, Clark had three of those four three-pointers. However, this team isn’t necessarily built to shoot from the three-point line, so if the Cavaliers can find a way to be more efficient from three and shoot less from deep, they may find themselves better off. 

Defense

Overall: A

The Cavalier defense has been quite good, only allowing opponents 55.8 points per game, fourth best in the NCAA. Virginia has also held opponents to a 39.8 percent field goal percentage, which is 54th best in the NCAA. However, some of this is a result of the Cavaliers’ tempo, which ranks dead last in the country — 358th based on possessions per game. Regardless, Virginia’s defense has been stout, and while the offensive woes continue, the defense has kept the Cavaliers in almost every game so far this season.

Paint Protection: A-

Virginia has done well to limit scoring in the paint, thanks largely to Shedrick. The Cavaliers are averaging 5.0 blocks per game, good enough for 38th in the nation, with Shedrick’s leading the charge at 2.9 blocks per game. Protection like that is one of the main reasons Virginia has had a great start defensively, and the Cavaliers will look to continue their strong paint play moving forward.  

Backcourt Defense: B

In terms of covering the three-pointer and mid-range shots, the Virginia defense has been average this year. Opponents are averaging 33.3 percent from the three-point line, over four percentage points higher than it was during the Cavaliers’ National Championship run. Furthermore, Virginia has struggled to consistently generate turnovers, only averaging 5.7 steals per game. 

Intangibles and Effort 

Rebounding: B

The Cavaliers have won the rebound battle four times in their first 10 games and are averaging 32.3 rebounds over this stretch. There hasn’t been much that separates Virginia from their opponents in terms of rebounding, but it hasn’t been a significant problem so far this year. Shedrick and junior center Francisco Caffaro will look to continue crashing the boards, but it’s Gardner — leading the team with 8.5 rebounds per game — who has helped the Cavaliers on the glass the most. 

Chemistry: B+

It is hard to gel as a team when players are constantly coming in and out of the program. Gardner and Franklin have done well to come into this team and immediately lead the team in many statistical categories. The Cavaliers simply need to shoot better and be more efficient offensively and they will be in a great position as the ACC schedule approaches.

The first 10 games — despite featuring a Roman Legends Classic title — are a source of nervousness for many fans. The Cavaliers already have three losses to unranked teams, and with the ACC schedule approaching, Virginia will need to find ways to consistently notch wins against lesser opponents. On a bright note, the Cavaliers are matched up with a currently-ranked team just twice until the end of the regular season. Both of those games are against No. 3 Duke.

Virginia hasn’t been ranked in the AP Top 25 since week one, and currently sit ranked 57th in the 2022 Pomeroy Rankings from Kenpom.com. Hopefully the next stretch of the regular season will grant the Cavaliers better fortunes.

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