Superb defense and nail-biting victories accurately described the 2019-20 Virginia men’s basketball season.
Elite shooting, however, did not.
“I know we have to play good defense, as I told them before the game, ‘It’s not always going to be pretty, but it has to be gritty,’” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said after the second game of the season.
Bennett knew in November the Cavaliers might have to battle for victories while overcoming poor shooting. They did just that for much of the season.
The Cavaliers tied for 315th nationally out of 353 teams with a 3-point shooting percentage of 30.4%. ESPN’s website uses nine pages to list out all 353 teams in each statistical category. When it came to 3-point shooting, the Cavaliers showed up on page 9.
Poor shooting caused the Wahoos to finish 234th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. That’s the worst offensive efficiency rating for any team led by Bennett.
The year prior, when UVa won the national championship, it ranked second in offensive efficiency and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage. Despite operating at a slower tempo, poor shooting and offensive inefficiency are uncharacteristic of Bennett-led teams.
With Marquette transfer Sam Hauser eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, the numbers suggest the Cavaliers could be destined for a dramatic increase in production from the 3-point line.
Last season, Virginia took 560 shots from beyond the arc. In his three seasons at Marquette, Hauser averaged 184 shots from beyond the arc in each season, and he’s a career 44.5% 3-point shooter. When Hauser’s average of 184 shots is combined with Tomas Woldetensae’s 144 attempted 3-pointers last season, Kihei Clark’s 96 attempts and Jay Huff’s 53 shot attempts, the quartet would have hypothetically combined to shoot 477 3-pointers this year. Based on their career 3-point shooting average at the Division I level, those four would have combined to shoot 39.4% on those 477 shots.
If a team shot 39.4% from the 3-point line this season, it would have ranked sixth nationally.
Hauser putting up 184 shots from the 3-point line in a season isn’t an outlandish possibility on a UVa team. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy both shot more than 184 3-pointers during the national championship season. In fact, Guy took 282 attempts from 3-point range in 2018-19.
Given Hauser’s elite shooting prowess and the green light, he could single-handedly raise the team’s shooting percentage by a significant margin. Teammates rave about Hauser’s shooting performances at practice.
“Talk about the most annoying person to guard,” sophomore guard Jayden Nixon said.
Nixon drew the assignment of guarding Hauser frequently. At one practice, he asked a teammate to help off a player on the opposing practice team because the guy wasn’t an elite shooter. Hauser misheard Nixon and thought the sophomore guard told him he couldn’t shoot.
“He got really mad at me,” Nixon laughed. “He was like, ‘Who can’t shoot?’ and he hit like the next five 3s in a row, and I was just like, alright. I’m glad we have him on our team next year, and I’m not guarding him next year. I’m excited to have him.”
While adding Hauser helps, the team does need players such as freshman guard Casey Morsell to improve their shooting next season. The rising sophomore struggled shooting in his first season, making just 15 of his 85 shots from beyond the arc, but the guard who shot well in high school did make 12 of his 14 free throws, showing at least a glimpse that he’s a quality shooter who had a down season.
Kody Stattmann also struggled a bit, shooting just 26.9% from the 3-point line on 52 attempts. He did, however, shoot 6-of-11 (54.5%) from 3-point range over the season’s final 10 games. UVa’s recruiting class also brings in three freshmen with solid shooting ability to add to the arsenal of potential 3-point threats.
Losing Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key leaves the Cavaliers with big shoes to fill in the frontcourt, but neither professional prospect was a lethal 3-point shooter. Diakite showed impressive efficiency from beyond the arc, shooting 36.4% this season, but he only attempted 55 shots from that distance. Four Cavaliers shot more 3-pointers than Diakite this season. Huff and Stattmann shot nearly the same amount as Diakite despite both players logging at least 200 fewer minutes of playing time.
Key excelled on the defensive end and was the team’s leading rebounder. He also scored effectively attacking the rim. He’s a valuable asset to any team, but 3-point shooting wasn’t his specialty. Key shot 65 shots from 3-point range and made just 12 of them, good for a 3-point shooting percentage of 18.5%. Over his career at both Alabama and UVa, Key shot 27.4% from beyond the arc.
Key’s graduation doesn’t help Virginia as a team given his well-rounded game, but Hauser’s addition in the small forward and power forward role gives UVa better deep shooting from that position.
In 2018-19, the Cavaliers were one of Bennett’s most dynamic shooting teams. This season, Virginia ranked among the worst teams nationally in 3-point shooting.
Next year, Virginia looks ready to return to its elite shooting ways.