The Virginia men’s basketball team needs to improve.
After a 7-0 start to the season defined by defensive excellence, Virginia’s offensive woes finally caught up to it in Wednesday’s 69-40 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The No. 5 Cavaliers (7-1, 1-0 ACC) struggled to score and allowed Purdue to shoot over 50% from the 3-point line. The result was a blowout at Mackey Arena. Fans, players and coaches knew UVa needed to improve on the offensive end, but it’s hard to accurately assess flaws when a team keeps winning.
With a blowout loss now under its belt, it’s much easier to see exactly where the Cavaliers need work.
“We’ve got a lot of improving to do, and forget rankings, there’s not a big enough sample size,” Bennett said. “That stuff doesn’t even matter. When you play against a team that’s that well coached and that intense and that physical, it kind of takes your breath away, and we played on our heels all game.”
Purdue’s size and strength hurt Virginia. The Cavaliers were outrebounded 31-26, and they only secured four offensive rebounds despite missing 27 shots. Virginia scored just 10 points in the paint against Purdue’s physical defense.
In addition to issues handling the strength of the Boilermakers, Virginia struggled with turnovers and matching Purdue’s intensity. With Braxton Key out and inexperienced players forced to step up, the Cavaliers weren’t up to the challenge.
“We, I guess, didn’t take it as seriously as we needed to going in,” Virginia forward Jay Huff said. “Some of that is just the atmosphere. Again, with a young team, games like that will happen.”
Another test awaits Sunday.
North Carolina, fresh off a blowout loss of its own to Ohio State, enters John Paul Jones Arena on Sunday for an ACC tilt. Much like UVa, North Carolina (6-2, 1-0 ACC) will be without its top rebounder. Armando Bacot suffered an ankle sprain against the Buckeyes and he’s expected to miss Sunday’s game.
Without Bacot, even more of the attention turns to UNC freshman guard Cole Anthony. The young star leads the Tar Heels in scoring and assists and also ranks third on the team in rebounding. Kihei Clark and Casey Morsell are two guards likely to be tasked with covering Anthony.
Virginia failed its toughest test of the season Wednesday, and Sunday’s challenge doesn’t get much easier. Playing at home certainly helps, but Roy Williams’ squad is talented and leads the ACC in rebounds per game. Even without Bacot, the Tar Heels will play fast and physical.
Only three days sit in between Virginia’s blowout loss and its game with North Carolina. Improving drastically in that time isn’t easy, but the Cavaliers hope to rebound well and bring better intensity to the floor every possession.
Luckily for the Cavaliers, they’ve played just eight games. The season is young, and there’s plenty of time for the Wahoos to better themselves between now and March. The improvement process continues Sunday.
“We look in the mirror, and we try to be thankful for what it teaches you, as painful as it is,” Bennett said after the Purdue loss. “I told our guys, ‘Sometimes you’ve got to figure out what gives us a chance.’ Not saying we were hiding before, but this was a real, physical, hard-nosed tough team … we’re gonna have to tighten the screws and get better and better.”