The sun rose Sunday morning.
A day after the Virginia men’s basketball team dropped its second consecutive game to an unranked opponent, life went on. Contrary to some of the comments online, the world didn’t turn into a fiery mess.
“They’re a tremendous team,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said of Virginia. “They don’t score as much as they did last year, but they’re fine. They’re a really good basketball team, and they’ll be more than fine.”
It hasn’t been the storybook follow-up to a national championship that Virginia hoped for, and Boeheim might be using the word “tremendous” rather generously. Regardless, the sky isn’t falling, and it’s far too early to call this Virginia basketball season a lost cause.
Offensively, however, the problems aren’t fading away, even after the Cavaliers posted a few solid offensive showings against teams like Navy and Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers can’t score. Well, technically they can — they haven’t been shut out yet — but they’re not scoring efficiently.
After Saturday’s loss, UVa slid to 230th nationally in offensive efficiency. There are 353 Division I college basketball teams. The eight teams ranked directly behind Virginia in offensive efficiency are a combined 41-86 on the season.
When the Cavaliers win, it’s often in spite of their offense. That’s a problem.
It’s easy for Virginia fans to wonder, “Why?” after two years of exceptional offensive efficiency and six consecutive seasons ranking in the top 50 in offensive efficiency, it’s alarming to see the Wahoos among the 10 worst 3-point shooting teams in the country.
So why is Virginia’s offense so lost?
Simply, three incredible offensive threats went to the NBA Draft early. When De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome declared for the draft, it put a damper on Virginia’s chances of boasting an elite offense this season.
All three players shot at least 39.9% from 3-point range, and they all hoisted at least 100 shots from beyond the arc. Last year, Virginia was one of the best shooting teams in the country.
With inexperienced guards now asked to carry the shooting load, there’s been a dramatic dip in shooting percentages for the Cavaliers. This shouldn’t come as a major shock.
Poor shooting doesn’t mean Tony Bennett is suddenly a bad recruiter — the Cavaliers’ 2020 recruiting class is ranked 11th nationally by multiple recruiting outlets, including ESPN — and the class is guard-heavy. Poor shooting also doesn’t mean everyone on the team is a bad shooter without any room for improvement.
Several inexperienced players like Casey Morsell and Kody Stattmann have been asked to play shooting guard, and their confidence has wavered at times. After a pair of solid showings from Stattmann, he struggled against the Syracuse zone, committing four turnovers and failing to score. He passed up a few wide-open looks.
“A couple times, Kody, he didn’t even want to look at it, and that’s hard,” Bennett said. “If you don’t feel like you’re either gonna make it, or your shot’s not there, I think sometimes you have to step in and take them ... those are all parts of being inexperienced and at times unsure in those spots.”
Stattmann passed up a few open looks, but he’s not the only one. He also performed exceptionally against Boston College, and Bennett called him the bright spot in that loss. Virginia’s problems aren’t because of one player. They’re caused by poor offensive play across the entire team.
“That’s where the pillar of unity comes in,” Jay Huff said. “Coach said it after the game, we can’t get too down on ourselves. Now is when we’ve got to come together a little bit instead of pointing fingers.”
It’s easy to win as a team. When things are going well, like they were for the Cavaliers when they opened the season 7-0 and climbed into the top 5 in the AP poll, it’s easy to win. In the past eight games, Virginia is 4-4 with two ACC losses and a pair of double-digit nonconference defeats.
Poor shooting has caught up to the young Cavaliers, and it’s resulting in losses. For an inexperienced team replacing three elite shooters now playing professionally, that’s hardly unexpected. The Cavaliers might not be a “tremendous team” as Boeheim said, but they’re also capable of performing better than they did against Boston College and Syracuse.
There’s room for UVa to develop. Fortunately, the sun will rise tomorrow morning, and the Cavaliers will keep working.
“You’ve got to be able to win together, and you’ve got to be able to lose together, and then grow,” Tony Bennett said. “That’s what we’ll do.”