(Image – Matt Gentry – Roanoke Times)
So, that was a stinker. After holding an eight-point lead at the half and another eight point lead with 11:17 left, the ‘Hoos only scored nine points for the rest of the game while allowing the Hokies to put up thirty-one. That said, the offense was stagnant for long stretches. Defensively, while UVA held Virginia Tech to twenty-one first half points, it was clear that, if the Hokies started hitting shots, the floodgates would open.
With a frustrating loss at the hands of a bitter rival, a number of notable storylines emerge. Per usual, I’ve got five key takeaways from the defeat.
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This is just one game
While a loss to a rival like Virginia Tech is never fun, this was still just one game and one bad loss. Fortunately, such a contest will allow the Wahoo staff and players to regroup and refocus on addressing some of the problems they had against the Hokies. Additionally, dropping a hard fought game to Tech is nothing new for this program. For instance, the then #1 ranked 2017-2018 squad lost at home to Tech, while the 2015-2016 team who went on to make the elite eight also dropped a game in Cassel Colosseum.
With that in mind, while there are concerns that arise from this game, this performance isn’t an indication of this team’s long term potential as the ‘Hoos will no doubt be back at their best shortly.
The backcourt struggled
While Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman are each very good players, they also have very similar offensive games which can cause some problems. Specifically, each player is much better playing lead guard. On Saturday, the Hokies found ways to exploit that issue.
Specifically Tech neutralized advantages gained off screens by going underneath all ball screens screens and sinking off of whichever guard was off ball. As a result, help defenders clogged up the driving lanes and forced Clark and Beekman to pick up their dribble and shoot over the top. Fortunately for the ‘Hoos, Clark actually knocked down three triples in the first half when the Hokies played drop coverage and snuck under ball screens. But, in the second, he failed to convert on three additional looks.
By guarding Beekman and Clark like that, Tech put the onus on guys like Sam Hauser, Trey Murphy, and Jay Huff to make plays for themselves. Again, in the first half and early in the second, the ‘Hoos lived off of a couple of heroic, late clock triples from Hauser and Murphy while Huff converted on three triples of his own. But, as time wore on, Huff wracked up fouls and both Murphy and Hauser started missing those same threes they’d made in the first half.
While the Clark-Beekman-Murphy-Hauser-Huff lineup is the best and most talented lineup the Wahoos have, it’s also has its limitations. When opposing defenses know they can help off of Beekman and, occasionally, Clark, they can negate the value of post touches for Huff and Hauser. And, when ball screens don’t produce much, the open threes that the team has been able to generate become that much more difficult to produce.
Hopefully, as the season continues, Beekman and Clark will continue to grow more comfortable playing off of one another and they’ll be able to knock down some of the open shots that defenses give up to them.
The defense was fine
This might sound odd but, frankly, I wasn’t too disappointed with the defense in this game. Tech shot 50 percent from deep and their best player had the best game of his life. Mike Young also had a simple yet perfect game plan to beat the UVA defense and utilize his personnel to exploit deficiencies in the Wahoo defense that have been there all along.
Specifically, Young forced put his star player, Keve Aluma, in advantageous positions. While not revolutionary in design, by having Keve Aluma constantly setting up to set screens before slipping out the backside and running Huff into constant off ball screens meant to free Aluma up, Young made life difficult for the UVA defense. Then, once the 30.6 percent career three-point shooting big man hit a pair of triples early in the first half, Aluma really got cooking. When Huff got in foul trouble in the second half, Francisco Caffaro was forced to guard the quicker Aluma.
With all that said, Tech still only scored 1.12 points per possession on Saturday. While that’s still the second best offensive performance against the Wahoos this season, it’s not horrendous considering how well the Hokies shot the ball and with just how dominant Aluma was.
Ideally, this team’s high powered offense would’ve carried the ‘Hoos to victory. Unfortunately, UVA had its worst offensive outing of the season scoring just 0.88 points per possession as a result of Tech’s aforementioned adjustments to stunt the Wahoo attack.
This team misses Kadin Shedrick
With the team’s struggles guarding Aluma, it’s clear that this team misses Kadin Shedrick. A less potent offensive threat than Huff, Shedrick makes up for it with his defense. He’s quicker than Huff and is good at guarding ball screens. While he’s not the shot blocker that Huff is, he makes up for it with solid help defense and quick defensive instincts.
Shedrick’s extended absence has caused a ripple effect of issues. Specifically, because he can’t spell Huff as a defensive option, Huff is more prone to get into foul trouble. Now, without Shedrick, when Huff wracks up fouls, Francisco Caffaro is the backup option. Because Caffaro is a much different offensive talent than Huff and Shedrick, UVA actually switches from their three-man offense back to the mover blocker set with Caffaro in the game. As a result, even though Caffaro is a solid backup option, his presence forces the Virginia offense to play the mover blocker offense which the guards aren’t as good in in comparison to the triangle offense.
Contrarily, when Shedrick is healthy, he provides an easy transition on the offensive end when Huff goes out because, event though he isn’t the shooting threat that the Hoonicorn is, he’s very comfortable with the ball in his hands and can be a threat in the low post in the three-man offense.
In his media availability today, Bennett mentioned that Shedrick is progressing but that a return date is still up in the air. Hopefully the redshirt first year will be back in the lineup soon because the ‘Hoos need him.
Not a lot of easy points
While the frustration among UVA faithful regarding certain calls made in the Hokies’ favor was occasionally warranted, an underrated storyline from the first fourteen games of the season reared its ugly head in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday night: Virginia’s inability to get to the free throw line. Per Bart Torvik, the ‘Hoos are 11th worst nationally in free throw rate (# of FTs / # of FGs).
The ‘Hoos don’t have any real bruisers on the interior, and their guards have had issues drawing contact on drives which largely contributed to the 16-8 foul differential on Saturday. While Huff and Hauser both have decent post presence, each relies on finesse to score and neither is looking to put their shoulder into a defender. That’s fine because they’re both capable scorers in the post. But, this means that UVA is unlikely to get many easy looks at the basket and increases the importance of making outside shots.
Then, defensively, this lack of physicality becomes a real problem when facing a team like Virginia Tech who wants to play bully ball. Fouls, even if some are iffy calls, pile up quickly which makes life harder on the offensive side of the ball.
This was a game where just about every single flaw the ‘Hoos have reared its ugly head against an opponent who built to beat them. Moving forward, they’ll be more aware of certain issues and both the coaching staff and the players will no doubt adjust accordingly.
The seven game win streak to open ACC play was a nice stretch of play. But, now, things get real. Nonetheless, expect this team to bounce back with a win on Wednesday against N.C. State before they look ahead to another big matchup this Saturday.