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With NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, count on clutch Jake Groves to deliver

The slick shooting graduate forward is an essential part of Virginia’s success

<p>In the midst of a weird and wild season, the most important key for postseason success may be Groves’ shooting abilities as a tall forward.</p>

In the midst of a weird and wild season, the most important key for postseason success may be Groves’ shooting abilities as a tall forward.

In a strange 2023-2024 season, full of inconsistency, graduate forward Jake Groves has been one of the most important components for a streaky Cavalier offense. Standing at 6’9” and 211 lbs., he does not fit the build of a stereotypical ACC big man — yet he has logged most of his minutes at the center position. 

Furthermore, his most significant contribution is also out of character for a center — stellar three point shooting. Groves knocks down a blazing 48.3 percent of his long range attempts. That mark leads the team, even over strong shooters like sophomore guard Isaac McKneely and senior guard Reece Beekman. 

Groves fits somewhat similarly into the mold of former Cavalier Ben Vander Plas, another experienced center and strong shooter who transferred to Virginia for his final season of eligibility. Vander Plas was a coveted and proven commodity during his time with Ohio University — even eliminating the Cavaliers from the 2021 NCAA Tournament in a first round matchup.

Contrastingly, Groves was largely unheard of from his days with Oklahoma and Eastern Washington. While Vander Plas was a solid contributor for Virginia, Groves is arguably the engine of the entire offense for Coach Tony Bennett. Reflecting on the best season of his career, Groves explained his experience in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.

“I've played in a lot of venues, and JPJ is at the top,” Groves said. “Our fans are really good, they do a great job with engaging during the game. We have a large following due to our success over the years, and our fans make a real impact in each game … It’s a treat to play for this home crowd.”

In true Vander Plas fashion, Groves has become a fan favorite with his electric shooting and unique abilities. Behind only freshman center Blake Buchanan, Groves is the second tallest active player on the team. Because of his height, Groves plays center out of necessity — yet his adaptation of the position with a focus on three-point shooting has been working wonders for a usually pedestrian Virginia offense. 

“My growth as a person throughout my time here has been big,” Groves said. “[Bennett’s] culture is amazing, he helps us grow on the court as well as off the court. These coaches have helped me expand my game, and encouraged me to shoot the ball more. With those extra shots, I’ve just been making more. They trust me by putting me in position to score.”

Being able to trust a veteran with four seasons of college basketball under his belt is extremely helpful for the development of a young Virginia squad. Even though this is Groves’ final year of eligibility, he has been a perfect mentor for Buchanan and the redshirting freshman Anthony Robinson — a tall forward who is not active this year.

“We’re resilient,” Groves said. “We’ve dropped a couple bad losses, but we fight hard.”

This mindset has been crucial for the Cavaliers, as they have had a season that can simply be labeled as uniquely bizarre. The team has seen the lows of more than five losses by 15 or more points, but fired off an eight-game winning streak in conference play through January and into February. However, this was only to be run out of the gym by Virginia Tech and Duke in recent catastrophic losses. Still, winning eight consecutive games in conference play highlights how Groves and his squad are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. 

“[The winning streak] was really good for our team,” Groves said. “It showed we can really play with anybody, especially in ACC play, which is always a difficult task. We have a resilient group, for sure.” 

On the subject of difficult tasks, the most important stretch of the season awaits. The regular season finale versus Georgia Tech is on the horizon — as is the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers are running out of time to fortify their NCAA Tournament resume, and the legacy of this year’s team will be forged in the next few weeks.

“When we’re playing good basketball, and we’re guarding like Bennett wants us to, we can be a second weekend team,” Groves said. “We will have to play some good basketball before Selection Sunday, but we have a really good group of guys and a good staff, and the sky's the limit.”

In the midst of a weird and wild season, the most important key for postseason success may be Groves’ shooting abilities as a tall forward. His position as Virginia’s best shooter was perhaps unexpected, but he is now a cornerstone for the Cavaliers. When Groves is consistently hitting three-point shots, Virginia’s potential for victory is boundless. 

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