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Men’s basketball’s second trimester report card

How Virginia hoops have fared over its last 10 games this season

<p>The Cavaliers will need a special late-season run in order to make the NCAA Tournament.</p>

The Cavaliers will need a special late-season run in order to make the NCAA Tournament.

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The Virginia basketball team has continued its up-and-down season into the meat of ACC play. After their first 10 games, the Cavaliers (12-9, 6-5 ACC) were 6-4 and 1-0 in the ACC.

The past 11 games have seen a streaky Virginia team look different from one game to the next. After a win against Fairleigh Dickinson, the Cavaliers lost to Clemson and then won back to back games against Syracuse and Clemson. Since then, the Cavaliers haven’t won or lost two games in a row. To say it has been a bumpy ride is an understatement.

One noticeable improvement for Virginia has been three-point shooting. After averaging just 30.2 percent in the first 10 games beyond the arc, the Cavaliers improved their average to 32.8 percent for the entire season. 

However, not much else has improved for the Cavaliers. There is a clear lack of experience playing together on both sides of the ball, and it may be too late in the season to fix that. Regardless, Coach Tony Bennett knows how to coach his team well, so a late season NCAA tournament push is always on the table. Increasingly, it looks like that will be dependent on a potential ACC Tournament Championship.

Offense

Overall: B-

The Cavalier offense has remained somewhat similar since its first 10 games. Now averaging 62.7 points per game, Virginia has continued to rely on transfer senior forward Jayden Gardner and transfer junior guard Armaan Franklin for points. Notable positives have been sophomore guard Reece Beekman and senior guard Kihei Clark’s command of the offense. Beekman has been particularly impressive, now averaging team highs in both assists — 4.8 — and steals, with 2.2 per game. Meanwhile, Gardner continues to lead the offense in both ppg at 14.3 and rebounds per game at 6.9. 

Scoring: B

The Cavaliers have struggled to shoot the ball well all season, but improved their total field goal percentage from 43.3 percent through the first 10 games to 45.1 percent now. The obvious problem arises because of the slow nature of the Cavalier offense. Virginia averages 52 field goal attempts per game, while making 23.4 field goals per game. Those splits rank No. 351 and No. 288 among Division 1 teams, respectively. 

Three-Point Shooting: B

Three-point shooting has improved to 32.8 percent, in large part due to Clark’s shooting beyond the arc. He averages 37.8 percent, the highest among starters. However, Virginia is inherently built to drive to the basket. Excluding sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick, who is better known for his role working in the post, the starters for Virginia average 32.5 percent from the three-point line. With not very many natural three-point shooters on the team, the Cavaliers still need to look for Shedrick and junior center Francisco Caffaro in the paint more often than not. Three-point shot attempts make up 32.5 percent of the Cavaliers’ field goal attempts, a tendency that needs to change in the later part of the season.

Defense

Overall: B

Another area of concern over the past stretch of games for Virginia has definitely been the defense. Opponents now average 59.8 ppg, compared to the average opponent ppg of 55.8 through Virginia’s first 10 games. Regardless, these have both been very misleading statistics as many of the defensive statistics for Virginia are this year. While those numbers are good enough for the Cavaliers to come in No. 10 in the country defensively, Virginia’s offense is No. 325 in the country in scoring themselves. Teams have found ways to score against Virginia, something not typical for Bennett’s teams. Performances from North Carolina junior forward Armando Bacot putting up 29 points and senior forward Jericole Hellems from North Carolina State recording 21 points have been pointers towards the susceptibility of the Cavalier defense as of late. 

Paint Protection: A

Shedrick and the Virginia paint defense have continued to be a strong point, limiting the ability of opposing teams’ offenses close to the basket. Still averaging five blocks per game, the Cavalier defense is second in the ACC for total blocks and blocks per game, behind Duke. Shedrick himself is averaging 2.6 blocks per game, over half of Virginia’s blocks average. As a team, Virginia has a block percentage of 9.5 percent for opponent field goal attempts — tenth best in the country.

Backcourt Defense: B-

The backcourt defense has fallen off as of late, as opponents are averaging 35.7 percent from the three point line, an increase from 33.3 percent for the first 10 games. While Virginia’s average steals per game has gone from 5.7 through the first 10 games to 5.8 now, the important statistic is that Virginia has a steals per play percentage of 8.3 percent, which is No. 160 in the NCAA. The Cavaliers’ style is suited to getting back in transition and establishing the pack line, so this isn’t worrisome. However, the ineffectiveness of Virginia’s one-on-one guarding, allowing players like Bacot and Hellems to dominate games, has given way to some of the Cavaliers’ key losses recently.

Intangibles

Chemistry: B+

The current rotation for Virginia has narrowed greatly. Starters Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner and Shedrick, plus Caffaro and senior guard Kody Stattman, are the only ones seeing significant minutes. Those seven are also the only players averaging double-digit minutes per game. The chemistry between the seven seems to be good, but is not strong enough to highlight each other’s strengths as well as the players, coaches and fans would have hoped. A possible explanation for this could be Bennett’s tendency to play other players outside of these seven at the start of the season. It was only as ACC play was beginning that this group started playing together more exclusively.

Clutch: B+

It is hard to quantify intangible grades, but it is especially hard to quantify how a team plays in the clutch. Over this stretch of the season, the Cavaliers have had five games decided by single digits — wins against Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and losses against Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Bennett knows how to coach in tight situations, but it seems there is a piece missing from what has made Virginia so effective in the close games of past seasons.

The most frustrating part about the Virginia men’s basketball team this season has to be the lack of consistency. For a number of reasons, the Cavaliers have been unable to prove, game in and game out, that they can be a predominantly successful team in the ACC this year. 

Fans may be looking for a string of successes to close out the season and for the Cavaliers to somehow go to the NCAA tournament, but the team’s remaining schedule is daunting. With one home and one away game against each of Miami and No. 9 Duke, as well as another matchup against Virginia Tech, February will be a challenging month for the Cavaliers.  

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