(Image – Bart Boatwright – The Clemson Insider)
Following the most satisfying win so far this season for the UVA basketball team, there’s a lot to be excited about right now. But, there’s also a number of caveats that are critical to effectively evaluate this squad right now. After a few days of rewatching, analyzing, and collecting my thoughts on the win, I’ve got five key takeaways.
A statement win
Whoo boy was that one beautiful basketball game from the ‘Hoos. Despite concerns of a weak non-conference schedule and four games against the bottom of the ACC, UVA showed the haters what’s up with their thirty-five point drubbing of then #12 Clemson. From start to finish, UVA put the hammer down on both sides of the ball. The defense was stingy for the majority of the first half while the offense went off in the second.
This team has made massive adjustments and improvements since December 26th against Gonzaga. Frankly, it was inevitable that this squad would get on track. The roster is far too talented and the coaching staff too intelligent. There are still a number of questions for UVA moving forward. But, it’s clear that Virginia still has a high ceiling this season and that there’s a lot to be excited about.
A balanced offensive performance outside of the schemes
Despite scoring a whopping eighty-five points, the ‘Hoos highest scorers had just fourteen points. In fact, for the third time in four games, five Wahoos scored in double figures. Overall, UVA had a balanced attack yesterday.
Obviously Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman were the catalysts for much of the offense as they combined for eleven assists and just one turnover. But, the UVA shooters also just hit shots. Sam Hauser finished 4-5 from three with fourteen points, while Tomas Woldetensae had his best performance this season with an additional fourteen points on 4-6 shooting from deep, and Trey Murphy chipped in another thirteen without missing a shot, shooting 5-5 from the field and 3-3 from three.
But, perhaps most notably, Jay Huff was a force not just on the inside, but as a perimeter player. In the last two games, Huff has attempted fourteen total three-pointers which indicates that the coaching staff has been encouraging Huff to let it fly to force defenses to extend out to him. That emphasis proved to be incredibly effective against Clemson’s over-aggressive defense as, with Huff working at the point of the offense and pulling the Clemson center onto the perimeter, he dished out five assists to the Virginia guards who effectively back cut their defenders for easy, uncontested buckets at the rim.
Huff’s magnetism as a floor spacer and elite roller to the hoop along with Kihei Clark’s still growing comfort as a distributor off the dribble and the knock-down shooting ability of Hauser, Murphy, and Woldetensae makes this offense elite. To put up 1.47 points per possession on the best defensive team in the country is no easy feat and speaks to what this team can do when they’re cooking.
A stellar defensive performance
While Clemson’s offense is nothing to write home about, the Virginia defense was phenomenal on Saturday. Outside of a small run the Tigers made to close the first half, they never found much of a rhythm. The ball screen defense from the ‘Hoos was solid. They mixed and matched a few different schemes as the game progressed, starting with more drop coverage before incorporating hard hedges with some strong backside help in the second half. Perhaps more importantly, the rotations appeared effortless.
Jay Huff’s individual defense on Aamir Simms was beautiful as the Hoonicorn held the Blue Ridge graduate to just two points on 1-9 shooting. With Simms out of the picture, there isn’t much else the Tigers had to go to on offense. This is now two seasons in a row where Huff has locked up Simms which points to his continued development into a shutdown one-on-one defender rather than just a shotblocker.
This is further evidence of Virginia’s meshing on the defensive end. The inexperience on this roster and the lack of next level athletes in the frontcourt made life difficult early in the season. But, they’re getting to the point where, with the comfort of more games in the legs and improved individual defense from guys like Huff and Trey Murphy, where the defense is once again a strength for this program.
A dominant win, but…
With all that being said, just as the Gonzaga contest was just one game, so is this. Clemson is a fairly poor offensive team and, while Virginia ran the Tigers out of the gym, they did a decent job of disrupting the UVA offense. Much of Virginia’s scoring came as a result of hot shooting that masked some sloppy offensive execution. Clemson shut the ‘Hoos down on the interior as none of Huff, Hauser, or Clark did much of anything in the post. This was a perimeter-heavy game for the ‘Hoos.
Granted, with guards like Clark and Beekman as distributors, shooters like Murphy, Hauser, and Woldetensae on the perimeter, and Huff as a phenomenal big in the pick-and-roll, UVA is more than able to rely on spread ball screen sets to beat teams that can fluster them in the paint. Still though, it was by no means a perfect offensive performance from the ‘Hoos
Then obviously, with Clemson coming off a COVID-19 induced pause, they were undoubtedly rusty out of the gates which contributed to the ease with which UVA put them away. That shouldn’t take too much away from what was such an impressive show of force from the ‘Hoos. But, it does diminish some of the oomph from the win.
Likely ACC favorites
As the lone team undefeated in ACC play, the Wahoos are, like they were coming into the season, the favorites in the ACC. The margin to teams like Florida State and perhaps Virginia Tech may be small, but Virginia has been the best team in conference play so far. Of course, with the bulk of the ACC schedule still ahead of them, the ‘Hoos have a long way to go in league play before anything is set in stone. And, particularly considering how quickly the tables have turned on some of the top teams in the conference, there are no guarantees.
Undoubtedly, the ‘Hoos won’t be able to continue producing like they did against Clemson. Still though, seeing this squad do what it did on Saturday confirms many of the expectations for the team’s potential this season. The only question now is, can they reach it when it matters most?