What a day yesterday was for Wahoo fans everywhere. With a statement win over Louisville clinching the ACC Regular Season Title, UVA is heading into postseason play red hot. With that in mind, I have five critical takeaways from the win for this team moving forward.
The ACC goes through Charlottesville
With three regular season titles in four years and five in eight, the UVA basketball program cemented itself atop the league once again on Saturday. For almost a decade now Virginia has ruled the ACC as Tony Bennett and his Wahoos have institutionalized a winning formula over their conference foes.
Of course, some credit goes to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who put UVA in position to clinch 1st place with their tenuous win over Florida State early Saturday afternoon. Virginia needed a mini-miracle to pass the Seminoles and, with some help from the Irish, the ‘Hoos made it happen.
No matter this team’s struggles, the ‘Hoos have made it back to the mountaintop after a strenuous absence since 2019 when that squad shared the regular season title with North Carolina. For that, the UVA faithful should be ecstatic. Far too often we get caught up in what are minor struggles in the relative big picture of dominance that Bennett has established in Charlottesville over the last 12 years.
Sam Hauser is the deserving ACC Player of the Year
It’s been a hot topic of debate for a while now: Who is the ACC Player of the Year. For most of conference play, no real frontrunner emerged.
Justin Champagnie had his run but Pitt’s struggles have dampened his hopes. Mathew Hurt was going well for a minute there but then one remembers that the Blue Devils are 10th in the conference and that UNC just blew the doors off of them. Most recently, Moses Wright has picked up real steam as an all-around player and he still has an incredibly strong case.
But after Saturday’s performance, Sam Hauser is the deserving ACC Player of the Year. The best and most impactful player on the top team in the conference, Hauser showed up big time against Louisville as he put up a season-high 24-points on 11-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds.
The Wisconsin-native put on a show as he carried the ‘Hoos for long stretches of time on offense. At points in the second half he appeared unconscious from the midrange and from the perimeter as he actually started the game 7-7 on long two-pointers.
Hauser has come on strong late in ACC play offensively and has developed greatly since the beginning of the season on the defensive side of the ball. He’s most responsible for the team’s regular season title and for that he deserves to be the league’s player of the year.
UVA adjusts and wins in the midrange
Recently, opponents have had much success switching one through five against Virginia. To combat that, UVA rolled out a few adjustments on Saturday night against Louisville meant to give Sam Hauser, Trey Murphy, and Jay Huff more opportunities to attack those mismatches while also feeding each of them more touches in threatening positions.
That emphasis on touches in the midrange is fascinating as, with the rise of analytics, the volume of midrange attempts has drastically decreased over recent years as its proven that while long 2-pointers are as difficult of shots as three-pointers, because they’re worth, well, two points, the midrange shot is much less valuable than easier shots at the rim or more valuable shots from behind the arc.
However, with shooters as efficient as Hauser and Murphy, the midrange can still be useful. As we saw against Louisville, the ‘Hoos relied on the midrange as they shot 12-19 on long twos on the night with Hauser going 7-9 and Murphy shooting 3-3.
I’ll be detailing the specific scheming decisions that generated these looks so stay tuned for that, but this adjustment proved to be critical for a Virginia offense that has been struggling for a while now. Of course, Sam Hauser shooting out of his mind makes every schematic decision look better than it is, but the staff put their best players in positions to succeed on Saturday and it worked.
The defense is looking better
While the offense was resurgent against the Cardinals, the defense improved as well. Specifically, both Clark and Beekman were great guarding Louisville’s high volume scorer, Carlik Jones. Finishing with just six points on 2-15 shooting, Jones struggled all night long and got no easy looks with Beekman and Clark staying in front of him and Jay Huff cleaning up anything at the rim. Beekman also did fairly well guarding David Johnson who put up 14 points but on 6-17 shooting from the floor.
Of course, Justin McKoy had another really nice performance as well. After averaging just over four minutes per contest for UVA’s first 14 ACC games, McKoy is averaging 18.7 minutes in the last three games. He’s playing much better defensively of late, especially as a small-ball center with Hauser or McKoy at the four.
That played a large part in the win over Louisville as a lineup with McKoy at the five and without either Hauser or Huff extended the lead late in the second half. The defensive versatility of the lineups of Clark, Beekman, Woldetensae, Murphy, and McKoy and Beekman, Morsell, Woldetensae, Murphy, and McKoy is incredibly valuable while they were able to get by offensively.
Reece Beekman is taking on a larger role
For the second consecutive game the UVA coaching staff increased Reece Beekman’s role. After matching his fellow point guard Clark in minutes against N.C. State, Beekman played 37 against Louisville while Clark played 32. The staff is also giving Beekman more opportunities to run the offense even with Clark on the floor with him as it appears that he is going to get his fair share of opportunities as the team’s lead guard.
Obviously that’s subject to change as Beekman’s game is more reliant on finding his teammates than Clark’s is. With that in mind, Clark will undoubtedly bounce back as the team needs more scoring from the backcourt. Nonetheless, Beekman is the program’s future at point guard and he’s making that evident with his recent performances on both ends of the floor.
(Image – Alton Strupp – Courier Journal)