UVA basketball began the 2014-2015 season ranked in the Top 10. So you probably expected the ‘Hoos to be 9-0 and ranked fifth. It wasn’t a hard road there, but neither was it a given.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett stepped up the schedule for the November-December stretch, playing just four home games, one against George Washington, the preseason pick to finish second in the tough Atlantic 10, while going on the road for the other five.
Eight of the nine wins have been in double digits, the lone single-digit win, over LaSalle, coming after the Cavs built a 20-point lead before holding off late comeback.
This was a team that began the season with high expectations, and has to date exceeded them.
But how does UVA basketball grade out at the exam break? Let’s dive in to the coursework and get a gander.
Offense: You don’t think offensive juggernaut when you think Virginia basketball, which is a middling 167th in the country in points per game (68.7 ppg). But that doesn’t take into account tempo (according to KenPom.com, Virginia plays the fifth-slowest pace in the country, with teams averaging 59.0 possessions per game in UVA games).
Adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, has the Cavs the 11th-best offensive team in the country, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions.
That’s right: 11th.
Break up these ‘Hoos, right?
Defense: This is what Bennett teams hang their hats on. Again citing KenPom, UVA has the third-best defense in the country adjusted for tempo, giving up 85.3 points per 100 possessions. This figure includes the otherworldly 26 points that Rutgers scored against Virginia at Barclays. For the game. A 40-minute game. Which saw Rutgers score two points in the final 16 minutes. Two.
Offense can go into slumps, as that Rutgers game demonstrated. (UVA scored 45 points in the win.) Defense doesn’t, as long as the effort is there, and with this team, the effort is a given.
MVP: Justin Anderson has made this his team in much the same way that Malcolm Brogdon made the 2013-2014 Cavs his team. Brogdon’s ascension pushed the 2012-2013 MVP Joe Harris into a secondary role that Brogdon now occupies with Anderson, the 2014 ACC Sixth Man of the Year, putting up career numbers (15.8 ppg, 58.8 percent three-point field goals).
Brogdon is just the third-leading scorer (12.6 ppg) with the emergence of forward Anthony Gill (13.0 ppg, 65.6 percent field goals) as a dominant force in the post.
Two years ago Harris was a one-headed monter. Now Bennett can get points consistently from a big three.
Most Improved: Like Justin Anderson has filled the shoes of Joe Harris, Darion Atkins has stepped up to fill the shoes of Akil Mitchell. Atkins, the only senior in the rotation, is averaging 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and is shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
A close second in this category is Mike Tobey, who is putting up 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 51.7 percent shooting. Tobey can play his way to the top of this list by keeping himself out of foul trouble (his 23 fouls through nine games are six more than any other Cav has registered to this point).
Rookie of the First Term: Marial Shayok was not on anybody’s radar, with Devon Hall coming in as a redshirt freshman and the heralded Isaiah Wilkins and B.J. Stith expected to push for time. Shayok leads the newcomers with 14.9 minutes and 4.2 points per game, shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Hall (12.6 mpg, 2.3 ppg) and Wilkins (10.0 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 3.4 rebounds per game) have shined in moments, but don’t look to be a part of the rotation once the ACC starts barring an injury to somebody in the top eight.
Final grade: Solid A. You only get an A+ for winning a nattie, so this is about as good as you can do in December.
– Column by Chris Graham