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Men’s basketball’s third trimester report card

How Virginia has performed down the stretch of the regular season

<p>Virginia had an up-and-down final portion of the season, ultimately coming up short in the ACC Tournament.</p>

Virginia had an up-and-down final portion of the season, ultimately coming up short in the ACC Tournament.

In the third and final installment of Virginia basketball’s report cards this season, it’s time to assess how the Cavaliers (18-12, 12-8 ACC) have performed over their last nine games and the ACC tournament. While an off year for Virginia, the season has still featured impressive wins over Providence — unranked at the time, now ranked No. 13 — and No. 9 ranked Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

However, inconsistency in play has plagued the Cavaliers’ season. The first four games that will be graded featured a four game winning streak. Virginia took down Boston College and Miami at home, beat Duke on the road, and then was victorious over Georgia Tech at home.

The Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament prospects were looking better than they had all season long following the win against the Blue Devils. Yet, after its triumphant victory, Virginia then lost three of its next four, including at Virginia Tech and back-to-back heartbreakers at John Paul Jones Arena to Duke and Florida State.

Virginia closed the regular season out with an away win at Louisville, making their final regular season record 18-12, and 12-8 in ACC play. 

Sitting in the Next Four Out in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology before the ACC tournament began, the Cavaliers knew they needed to go deep in the ACC tournament, if not win it, to clinch a berth to the Big Dance.

After narrowly beating a feisty Louisville squad 51-50, the Cavaliers matched up in the quarterfinals against third-seeded North Carolina. It is hard not to mince words, but the Cavaliers were demolished by the Tar Heels, losing 43-63. Virginia managed only 13 points in the first half, and shot 34.6 percent from the field for the game. 

The Cavaliers ended the season 19-13, 12-8 in ACC regular season play. Unsurprisingly, when the 68 teams that made the NCAA tournament were announced Sunday, Virginia was not one of the names that flashed on the screen. It marks the first time since 2013 that the Cavaliers will not be part of March Madness.

Offense

Overall: B-

It is hard to sugarcoat the Virginia offense this year. A combination of factors plagued the Cavaliers, but perhaps the most glaring were the losses of Sam Hauser, Trey Murphy and Jay Huff from last year’s team. The additions of senior transfer forward Jayden Gardner and junior transfer guard Armaan Franklin were designed to fill those gaps in terms of mid-range and three-point shooting, but the two players did not fully replace all that was lost from the previous season. The offense never truly gelled, which stemmed from the Cavaliers’ inability to simply make shots. Whether it was from beyond the arc or the mid-range game, the Cavaliers really had no deep consistent options to score aside from Gardner.

Scoring: B-

The Cavaliers struggled immensely on offense, and when that is combined with the fact that the Cavaliers play one of the slowest tempos in the NCAA, obvious problems arise. Virginia averaged 62.6 points per game, second-to-last in the ACC. While Gardner led the team with 15.3 points per game and shot 50.5 percent from the field, there wasn’t much consistent help elsewhere. Senior guard Kihei Clark and Franklin would sometimes have big games, the best example of which is Clark’s heroic home performance against Duke, where he scored 25 points and hit six three pointers. But more often than not, the Cavaliers were inconsistent at shooting the ball and putting points on the board. 

Three-Point Shooting: C

After being so accustomed to great three-point shooting the past several years — Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and even Sam Hauser or Trey Murphy last year come to mind — it was hard to realize that this year’s Virginia team just wasn’t equipped to shoot threes. Virginia averaged just five three-pointers a game and made a total of 160, ranked dead last in the ACC, and the Cavaliers’ 32.2 percent clip did not fare much better, ranked No. 12 in the conference. A 0-9 performance from three at Virginia Tech and a 2-12 performance at Duke were indicative of how poor the Cavaliers were from three-point range. Ironically enough, though, one of those three pointers at Duke won Virginia the game. It’s been that kind of weird year for Virginia. 

Defense

Overall: B+

Coach Tony Bennett’s teams will always be well-equipped defensively. And once again this year, the Cavaliers were stingy on defense. Virginia led the ACC in opponent points per game, holding teams to 60.2 points per game. In their last 12 games, the Cavaliers held four opponents under 60 points, and nine opponents at 65 points or fewer. 

Paint Protection: A-

The Cavaliers were No. 44 best in the country in blocks per game, averaging 4.5. In addition, Virginia’s block percentage was 8.6 percent, No. 21 in the nation. Sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick and junior center Francisco Caffaro held the paint down solidly for the Cavaliers. Shedrick averaged 2.0 blocks per game, while Caffaro had a strong presence and stout 1-on-1 defense, both were critical to keeping Virginia in games this season. 

Backcourt Defense: B

Spearheaded by sophomore guard Reece Beekman, who led the Cavaliers with 2.1 steals per game, Virginia’s backcourt defense was alright this year. However, Virginia held opponents to a 33.2 percent three-point shooting percentage, which was just 253rd in the NCAA. Additionally, the Cavaliers only forced 11 turnovers a game from their opponents, 302nd in the country. This was partly due to tempo, but still opponents only turned the ball over 15.9 percent of plays, close to 200th in the NCAA. Elite defense from Beekman could not fully hide the inability to create turnovers, something Virginia teams have always struggled with.

Intangibles 

Chemistry: B

This Virginia team includes three players with national championship experience — Clark, Caffaro and senior guard Kody Stattman. With so many players coming and going as NCAA transfer rules changed, it was going to be difficult for Virginia regardless as this took a major toll on roster continuity and cohesion of play on the court. Toward the end of the season, this team definitely came together and found their roles. With Clark and Beekman establishing a strong backcourt duo and Caffaro and Shedrick playing off of each other’s foul trouble, the Cavaliers had formed an identity. However, it may have just come too late in the season.

Clutch: B+

The Cavaliers had too many close games, as teams do towards the end of the season. Shots like Beekman’s game winner at Duke were glimpses of the fight that this team had. Meanwhile, a late-game collapse at home versus Florida State and a loss on a buzzer beater showed how this team still could mesh further. However, Virginia closed out games against Miami, once against Duke and Louisville to keep their tournament hopes alive. Regardless, the Cavaliers were unable to make a deep ACC tournament run and losing games at home to Duke and Florida State really derailed their NCAA tournament hopes.

This Virginia men’s basketball team had a rollercoaster of a season. The beginning of the year was rough — losses to Navy, JMU and Iowa were a rude awakening for the Cavaliers. Once ACC play started, Virginia began to string together a couple of wins, but could never find their footing. A four-game win streak, including the away win at No. 9 Duke, sparked hope that this could be a tournament team. However, a loss to Virginia Tech and losing three of the next four games dismantled those hopes. 

The season is not over, though — the Cavaliers have accepted a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, and will play one final game at John Paul Jones Arena against Mississippi State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The NIT will give Virginia one final chance to finish the season on a high note.

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