It doesn’t take a basketball savant to gain an understanding of the Virginia men’s basketball team’s issues this season.
The Cavaliers shoot poorly and turn the ball over too much.
Defensively, however, they’re sound and athletic. They’re also losing to teams they should — at least on paper — beat.
Even for those of us who wear glasses, our eyes deliver an accurate story of Virginia basketball.
It’s easy to see the subpar guard play, as inexperienced backcourt players pass up open looks after 10-plus games of missing those same opportunities. It’s easy to see that the Wahoos struggle offensively when their point total fails to budge after seemingly endless scoreless stretches.
While it’s easy to see Virginia’s issues, a deep dive into the numbers adds clarity to the picture. The stats back up what our eyes see, and they give deeper meaning to those missed shots and turnovers and stellar defensive plays. The stats tell us just what this Virginia basketball team is and what it can become.
Let’s start with the missed shots.
Coming into Monday, Virginia ranked 348th out of 353 teams in 3-point shooting percentage. The eye test says the Cavaliers are missing shots from beyond the arc. The stats say the Cavaliers are shooting one of the worst 3-point percentages in the country.
“I knew we weren’t gonna be as efficient as last year, but I’m still hopeful we’ll shoot at a little higher clip,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said.
As Bennett alluded to, this is a far cry from last season, when De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome nailed 3-pointers with relative ease.
“You just don’t replace three guys at the level who shoot it and expect either inexperienced guys or guys that didn’t have those numbers before to be able to do it at that level,” Bennett said.
Casey Morsell, a highly recruited freshman, is having a tough offensive start to his career. He’s shooting just 15% from 3-point range, which is the worst mark of any player in the country who has at least 50 attempts from long range.
This doesn’t mean the Cavaliers were wrong about the Washington D.C. product, but he is in a major shooting slump.
On the bright side, he’s playing excellent defense, and he showed glimpses of offensive greatness in a 19-point outing against Arizona State. He hit a game-winning 3-pointer late in the game to help the Cavaliers win 48-45.
“He made that big one against Arizona State,” Bennett said. “I tend to look at that and say, ‘OK, it’s coming,’ but do other things well. That’s kind of the message.”
As bad as the Cavaliers have shot the ball, Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite are a combined 34-of-88 (38.6%) from beyond the arc. Everyone else on the team — aside from Chase Coleman who is just 2-of-6 — is shooting under 30% from 3-point range. The Cavaliers need a third or fourth shooter to eclipse 30%.
Defensively, the Cavaliers dominate opponents. They ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency entering Monday. They also play at the slowest adjusted tempo in college basketball. This adds up to success in low-scoring games.
Bennett is 121-3 in his head coaching career when holding opponents to fewer than 50 points. He’s 9-0 at UVa this season in those games. Unfortunately for the Bennett and the Cavaliers, they’re 0-4 when opponents hit 60 points. They’re also 0-4 when trailing at halftime.
The Cavaliers are reliant on elite defense, which makes coming from behind a challenge. It’s also a challenge to beat teams like Purdue and South Carolina, which shot the lights out against a stingy UVa defense.
The team’s resume may be the worst news.
The Cavaliers find themselves fighting for their NCAA Tournament life after earning No. 1 seeds in consecutive seasons. According to the NCAA’s NET evaluation tool, the Cavaliers ranked 73rd nationally entering Monday’s games. The tool evaluates where games are played, margin of victory and quality of opponent.
UVa is just 0-1 against Quadrant 1 teams, which are considered the best in college basketball. Three of their losses are Quadrant 3 losses, which can look bad in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The Cavaliers play their second Quadrant 1 game of the season Wednesday when they travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State, which ranks ninth in the latest AP poll.
There’s certainly hope for the Cavaliers this season, as they’re still 11-4 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. They’re playing excellent defense, and the shooting has nowhere to go but up.
“I have tremendous confidence that the old Virginia will be right back to where they [were] at some point,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Hamilton added that every team goes through an adjustment period after losing seniors or players to the NBA.
As the Cavaliers adjust, fans grow frustrated with the poor offensive play. The Cavaliers are on pace to be the worst offensive team in Tony Bennett’s coaching career. It’s a work in progress offensively this season.
For UVa fans, whether they’re watching games at John Paul Jones Arena or perusing offensive statistics, it might be more enjoyable if they forget their glasses at home.