(Image: Andrew Shurtleff)
Virginia’s 2021-22 season did not start off as hoped. The Wahoos fell to Navy by a 66-58 final score on Tuesday night. My quick takeaways after a rough game.
Youth Not Ready
The rotation was mostly as expected. We knew the starting lineup would be Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner, and Shedrick. There wasn’t a lot of production off the bench. Veterans Francisco Caffaro and Kody Stattmann received most of those minutes. Guards Taine Murray and Carson McCorkle each made brief appearances.
They’re going to need more off the bench. Caffaro is sure to remain a staple in the rotation. Other than that, minutes are up for grabs. And they need someone to step up. Freshman forward Igor Milicic was the only scholarship player that didn’t get into the game. As mentioned, Taine Murray was only out there briefly. We’ll have to trust the coaching staff’s judgement that they’re not ready to contribute. But if this team is to reach their potential, those guys will need to step up and establish themselves.
If any one player will serve as a barometer of Virginia’s offensive success this season, it’s Armaan Franklin. The Indiana transfer is likely to be the highest volume three-point shooter for the Wahoos this season, and probably by a wide margin. Hitting over 40% last season at Indiana, that’s a big part of why he was recruited to Charlottesville.
Armaan had a rough first game at JPJ. He was 2-11 from the field, 1-7 from three-point range. Even the lone made three came in the final seconds when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Frankly, several of his shots were way off the mark. It wasn’t his night. UVA will need much better performances from him if they’re to reach their potential.
Small Ball Issues
We kind of knew this was going to be an issue. It’s the hole left by Trey Murphy that never was really filled. Virginia’s roster isn’t built to play small-ball, or more specifically to defend against teams who play that way. Navy had some success pulling the UVA forwards away from the basket and attacking off the dribble. We’ll see it all season. It’s a great way to get key players for the Wahoos, like Jayden Gardner, into foul trouble. Or at minimum, tire him out on defense.
I’m not sure there really is a solution involving personnel. It would be nice if Igor Milicic could find his footing, but that’s more for his offense and to provide quality depth. He won’t really solve the issue on defense. They’re just going to have to get better as a whole on defense and sort of rely on the system. To be clear, this wasn’t a deciding factor against Navy. There were just instances that highlighted the problem.
Take nothing away from Navy’s performance. They were terrific, and made the big plays down the stretch to pull away. Their switch to a zone late in the game was very effective. But UVA turned the ball over too many times (14) and allowed Navy too many second chances (10) on the offensive glass. Not to mention, there were a lot of defensive breakdowns that led to easy scores for the Midshipmen. These are the basic tenets of Bennett-Ball. The non-negotiables. That’s on UVA.
We’ve often seen teams under Bennett take time to embrace his formula for success. Even more so when there are lots of new faces as there are on this team. Tony wasn’t lying when he said we’ll need to have patience. Fans will surely gripe about poor three-point shooting. I guarantee his complaints will be about the subjects above. An adequate performance on the glass and in the turnover category, we’re talking about the type of ugly but comfortable early season win we’re used to.
The Hoos will return to action on Friday night when they host Radford at 7pm at John Paul Jones Arena.