The best Virginia basketball game since April eighth, the refreshing win has the Wahoos in a favorable position as we hit the second half of conference play. With that in mind, here are my five takeaways from the Florida State win.
A win of massive proportions
Heading into this matchup, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding Virginia’s tournament resumé. It was obvious that, at the very least, one win against the likes of Louisville, Duke, or Florida State would be necessary for this team to even be in the tournament conversation. Now, the Wahoos are sitting (relatively) pretty and have another opportunity to bolster their tournament status on the road in Louisville in a little over a week. What’s become apparent is that this team’s defense can keep them in any game against any opponent, which makes them ridiculously dangerous, as if they’re making shots, these Wahoos can be a giant-killer.
Tomas Woldetensae has come into his own
While his outside shooting has been phenomenal of late, what’s perhaps been most encouraging about Woldetensae’s recent play has been what he’s been able to do off the dribble. As defenses have begun to identify Tomas a legitimate deep threat, they’ve been quicker to close out to him, trying to force him to put the ball on the floor and get by them. He doesn’t do anything flashy, and he rarely drives to score, but he’s been able to collapse the opposing defense and then find shooters on the outside. In fact, he had three assists against Florida State. Of course, he still had four turnovers, but considering Florida State’s proficiency for steals and Woldetensae’s previous performances, an eight-point three-assist night from him is so valuable for this team as complementary production.
Tony Bennett has found his favorite lineup
At a certain point each season, Tony Bennett appears to settle in on a group of five guys that, while he may not start on a nightly basis, are the five he’ll play together most. With Woldetensae’s shooting improvements and Jay Huff’s newfound expertise for hedging on ball screens, it seems that Bennett has found his go-to lineup moving forward. Recently, Huff has quieted concerns about his defensive mobility guarding ball screens, as Florida State looked to take advantage of his previous struggles. The big man was up to the task though, as he’s grown much more comfortable hedging hard, disrupting the ball handler, and then recovering quickly back to his man. In the past, Huff has struggled with hedging without fouling, and has been known to run into his own teammates when recovering. This development is massive for him, especially when considering his recent offensive performances have been sub-par. Somewhat surprisingly, his defense is keeping him on the court.
The lineup of those two grouped with what is the new big-three of Clark, Key, and Diakite has been used 29.6% of the time over the last five games. Along with the lineup that replaces Huff with Morsell, they’re the only two groupings that have played over 7% of the minutes through the last five contests (the Clark, Morsell, Woldetensae, Key, Diakite lineup registering 14.6% of those minutes). The combined size, and now decent shooting from those five guys are what has set that lineup apart from the others, and it’s likely what we’ll see most of moving forward.
Fundamentals win games
Turnovers, as they always are, were an issue for the Wahoos on Tuesday. But they made up for those mistakes by outrebounding Florida State 36-23, while also connecting on twenty out of twenty-three free throw attempts. Now, due to Virginia’s high number of turnovers, FSU actually took a whooping thirteen more shots than the ‘Hoos, which partially explains Virginia’s rebounding advantage. That said, the Cavaliers only gave up five offensive rebounds off thirty-five Seminole misses (14.2% offensive rebound rate), and were able to grab six offensive rebounds off their own twenty-four misses (25% offensive rebound rate).
At the line, the ‘Hoos took and made their largest number of free throws since the National Championship last season. Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite were each perfect from the line, 7-7 and 4-4, respectively, with Diakite hitting two clutch free throws late to put the Cavaliers up by three with fourteen seconds remaining. Drawing fouls on the interior was Virginia’s counter to FSU’s length and height, as Clark in particular was great at drawing contact and then getting a shot off in the paint. Hopefully, the ‘Hoos can continue to touch the paint with their guards and draw enough contact to get themselves to the charity stripe.
Experienced players step up
Clark, Key, and Diakite all came up big on Tuesday night. They combined for one hundred and twelve minutes, forty-seven points, along with twenty-two rebounds. Clark went for fifteen points and four assists, and he looked much more comfortable in the paint against the length of Florida State than he has previously. He was creative when finishing at the rim, which is necessary for someone of his stature. His four turnovers are understandably frustrating, but frankly, we’re just going to have to adjust to the concept that, for this team to win, Kihei has got to take chances, chances that are going to result in a number of turnovers. Braxton Key bounced back from a rough performance against Wake Forest to score thirteen points and chip in nine rebounds. His shot selection was much better this game, and he battled through obvious pain in his wrist, and some excessive FSU contact. His offensive and defensive versatility remains critical for this team, and he’s been able to take a bit of pressure off Clark as a sort of secondary ball handler when necessary. Diakite’s nineteen points, punctuated with three three-pointers (with a fourth negated by a toe on the line), effectively launched the ‘Hoos into the lead early in the second half. His two late free throws were Guy-esque, and his ability to switch between protecting the rim and contest shooters on the outside is invaluable in the packline.
Coming into the season, it was apparent that these three would be Virginia’s most experienced, likely, most important players. But now, they’re starting to flourish in their roles, not just playing to expectations any more. The Cavaliers are going to need that type of play if they’re going to make a run now, and I’m confident that these three have what it takes to carry this team to its full potential.