Home Enough with the excuses: Virginia isn’t struggling because of ‘inexperience’

Enough with the excuses: Virginia isn’t struggling because of ‘inexperience’

Chris Graham
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Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

I don’t know that I like the way Virginia coach Tony Bennett keeps making his team’s struggles this season about “inexperience.”

Yes, he had, at the outset, a makeshift roster – just one starter back from last season, Reece Beekman, one other guy who averaged 20+ minutes per game in Isaac McKneely, and a guy in Ryan Dunn who is long on potential, but only got 12 minutes a game as a freshman last year.

Inexperience is an issue in November, December – not March, four months, into the fifth month, into a college basketball season.

So, no, it’s not “inexperience” that is at the root of the kinds of blowout losses like what we saw at Duke, which waxed UVA, 73-48, on Saturday, in a game that was over by the second media timeout of the first half.

The team looked simply unprepared to play against a good, not great, Duke team, in a tough, but by no means what it used to be, environment in Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the in-house DJ who plays during media timeouts is louder than the overrated Crazies.

“Maybe you always learn after wins and losses, and we’ve had a handful of those losses where we’ve been beat handily,” Bennett told reporters on his ACC teleconference on Monday. “I learned that Duke’s really good, and Cameron is still a noisy, loud place with a lot of energy. I’ve learned that, which I knew already, but no, Duke is the real deal.

“You know, we at times have gotten overwhelmed at the starts of games and through it. I thought our guys were better in the second half. But you know, our inexperience and some of our limitations do show, and that’s real,” Bennett said.

His guys were better in the second half because Bennett and his five-man staff of assistants finally made some adjustments to how the game should be played.

They seemed to have found a fix ahead of the Boston College game mid-week last week, in what turned into a 72-68 win in Chestnut Hill, freeing up Beekman with more ball screens, and limiting looks in the mover-blocker offense to try to keep the middle of the floor more open for dribble-drives and backdoor cuts.

So, what did Bennett have his guys doing in the first half on Saturday in Durham?

Mover-blocker and middle screens that clogged the lane, didn’t free anybody up for open looks, resulted in a lot of contested shots, at the rim, in the midrange and from three.

Basically, the coaches learned nothing from what their guys did well in the win at BC, versus what they had not done well in the three-game stretch preceding it, in which Virginia didn’t break 50 – as was the case, obviously, in the loss at Duke.

“We have a door knocker. We keep knocking, and you say, OK, we’re in this spot, let’s improve,” Bennett said, offering up a word salad reminiscent of UVA football coach Tony Elliott. “We just went into one of the tougher settings, one of the best teams, and that’s where it’s at. Now let’s address it and get as ready as we can. And, again, some teams have a smaller margin of error and a finer line than others. We know where we’re at, and so we address it, and we attack to the best of our abilities and prepare.”

This team, by the way, not inexperienced – Beekman is a four-year starter; two other starters, Jake Groves and Jordan Minor are both fifth-year grad transfers.

Even the young guys who have been getting minutes are 30 games into the season now.

It would be OK for Bennett to admit that he and his staff, all guys, it needs to be noted, from the same coaching tree, so, they’d be expected to attack problems the same way – maybe that’s the problem? – that they just haven’t figured out, 30 games into the season, how to best put the guys into position to win games.

In that context, with Virginia not teeing it up again until Saturday’s regular-season finale, I can’t blame Bennett for giving everybody Sunday and Monday off.

“This is our bye week, so you know, we’ve given our guys two days off in a row to let them rest and then make the most of our time and be as ready as we can, with humility of the reality of what happened, but with great assertiveness in your preparation for what is still out there for us,” Bennett said.

Word salad, dressing on the side, please.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].