Home Mailbag: Questions from UVA fans on shooting, post play, offense woes

Mailbag: Questions from UVA fans on shooting, post play, offense woes

Chris Graham

Bigger issues with the offense

ben vander plas
Ben Vander Plas. Photo: UVA Athletics

The article on bigs is interesting and legit, but pales to the issues on offense, which you pinpointed out previously.

The question worth probing is: why are previously good, pure shooters suddenly poor shooters at UVA?

Ben Vander Plas, for example – great shooter at Ohio, and then regresses to clunkers?

When you review many others and current players, the outcome is the same – no-confidence poor shooters who fall way short of previous shooting abilities?

Is the defense just too draining? Is the offense just not getting better shots because of poor picks or current non-offensive producers too focused on ball distribution/rotation versus shooting?

How and why are great shooters now poor?

It would be interesting to read your take on the observation.


armaan franklin
Armaan Franklin. Photo: UVA Athletics

Vander Plas wasn’t necessarily a “great shooter” at Ohio relative to what he did last season at Virginia, where he shot 30.3 percent from three; his season-best number from three at Ohio was 34.9 percent, back in 2020-2021.

But, point taken on him, though I’ll point out, BVP was shooting 34.7 percent from three before the mid-January back injury that limited his mobility.

Other examples here:

  • Armaan Franklin shot 42.4 percent from three as a sophomore at Indiana, regressed big-time to 29.6 percent as a junior at UVA in 2021-2022, before improving to 37.3 percent last season.
  • Going back a bit, Casey Morsell shot 17.6 percent from three as a freshman at Virginia in 2019-2020, was 26.3 percent as a sophomore, then after transferring to NC State, improved to 35.0 percent as a junior and 41.1 percent as a senior, though he’s regressed as a grad senior, to 28.6 percent and counting this season.

But then, there’s:

  • Jake Groves, shooting 49.4 percent from three this season at UVA; his best season prior was his 38.1 percent number at Oklahoma last year.
  • And Isaac McKneely: shooting 46.0 percent from three this year, up from his 39.2 percent shooting from three as a freshman.
  • Reece Beekman was a 24.3 percent three guy as a freshman; he’s a respectable 31.3 percent this year.
uva jake groves miami
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

I know that threes aren’t the whole story; I use them as the basis for this analysis because they tend to be a little more pure, in terms of being more likely to be catch-and-shoot, unguarded, or at least less guarded.

I consulted Synergy Sports for data on all jump shots, and what I got there was, Virginia ranks 95th in the nation (note: there are 362 teams in D1), so, basically, top third nationally, in jump-shooting percentage (36.2 percent).

For reference, the leader nationally is Wright State, which is currently making 41.4 percent of its jumpers.

Where Virginia struggles relative to the field is in the midrange – shooting 36.9 percent on jumpers in the short- to 17-foot range, ranking 225th nationally.

(The leader there: Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at 52.8 percent).

Another issue: our guys shoot a lot of those midrange jumpers – 5.9 per game, ranking 29th nationally.

And a lot of long twos as well: 5.0 per game, ranking 21st nationally.

(And they make just 33.1 percent of those, ranking 237th nationally.)

uva reece beekman wake6
Reece Beekman. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

What this suggests to me is that the issue isn’t so much that our guys forget how to shoot, but rather, it’s shot selection – or maybe more to the point, it’s the kind of shots that the mover-blocker offense allows the kids to select.

Virginia, per the Synergy Sports data, ranks 318th nationally in field-goal attempts at the rim – layups, dunks and tips – averaging 19.5 of those attempts per game.

One other number that I found via Hoop-Math.com – late-shot-clock shots.

Hoop-Math doesn’t give a national ranking on this one, but the raw data has Virginia getting 19.9 percent of its shots in the final five seconds of the shot clock, and shooting 37.6 percent overall – and 31.8 percent on late-shot-clock jumpers.

Just for comparison in terms of how the amount of late-shot-clock shots might rank, I looked at a few other schools:

Our kids are shooting a lot of jumpers, too many of them in the midrange and deep-two range, too many of them late in the shot clock.

That seems to be the issue to me.

No post play

uva jordan minor
Jordan Minor. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Loved your article on the soft post play at UVA. I would suggest that it is not only the pathetic post defense, but also the completely absent post offense, which allows the likes of Virginia Tech to run our three-point shooters off the arc. Unbelievable.

I love Tony, but I’m forever just shaking my head and screaming at the TV.  I’m done watching for the year, unwilling to watch UNC and Duke destroy them.

Let me add, Andrew Rohde should still be playing at St. Thomas, being too slow and too scared for the ACC.


uva blake buchanan miami jumper
Blake Buchanan. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

The mover-blocker, as noted above, produces a lot of contested midrange and deep-two jumpers and threes, and, yes, it’s at the expense of post-ups.

The Synergy Sports data has it that Virginia has attempted a grand total of 48 shots on post-ups this season, which ranks 324th nationally.

UNC, the team that Virginia will welcome to JPJ on Saturday, has attempted 156 shots out of post-ups, ranking 73rd; NC State, which split a pair of games with UVA earlier this season, ranks 12th with 207 shots out of post-ups.

Our guys don’t shoot out of post-ups often, and they’re not that good when they do – shooting just 39.6 percent, ranking 319th nationally.

Lots of jumpers, not a lot at the rim in general, not a lot of post play, not effective when the guys shoot on post-ups.

And then I’ll throw in, since it hasn’t yet come up here in this Mailbag: not a lot in transition.

Virginia ranks 353rd nationally – bottom 10 – in offense coming in transition, at 8.5 percent.

Transition offense, by definition, is offense that comes before the other team has set up its defense – the defense is in transition, thus, out of position relative to how it wants to be.

Because of that, the shots you get in transition are of the higher-percentage variety – rim runs and open threes.

Virginia gets 91.5 percent of its offense, ninth-most in the country, against the other team’s set defense.

When you’re going up against a set defense, you’ve got to create your open looks, which Virginia tries to do with constant screening and attempts at touching the paint off the dribble.

When it works, like in the Syracuse game, in which Virginia was 12-of-21 from three, you score 84 points and win; or in the FSU game, Virginia shot 10-of-18 from three and scored 80 and won.

Virginia was 2-of-12 from three and 3-of-20 on midrange jumpers in the 75-41 loss at Virginia Tech.

Other guys we missed out on

armando bacot
Armando Bacot. Photo: ACC/Jaylynn Nash

I have become a big fan, finding your your insights on UVA sports to be interesting, informative, and right on target. So, thanks for that, and keep up the good work!

Let me add a brief addition to your latest – the column about the poor recruiting and development of their big men. You mention the missed opportunities of Armando Bacot and Mark Williams, both from Virginia. Don’t forget Efton Reid and Hunter Dickinson, two other high-quality bigs from the state who would have made huge differences for this team. Such players are out there. We (that is, Tony & Co.) just need to figure out how to get them. Imagine consistently having a strong post presence, not just on defense, but also on offense – and not depending so much on the hots and colds of jump shots. We would see many fewer long shoreless droughts.

Thanks again, and Go Hoos!


I missed on Reid and Dickinson in that column, indeed.

Dickinson is another example of what I wrote about earlier in the week with respect to Bacot – another guy who is putting up good numbers in college who could have benefitted more from going to a program like Virginia to learn how to play the kind of game NBA execs want out of their bigs.

Do we have NBA guys?

steph curry ty jerome
Steph Curry and Ty Jerome at JPJ. Photo: UVA Athletics

I’ve been saying for years that guards know Tony wants it to be a guard’s game in college. UNC has beaten us for more than one big over the years.

True enough about Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Anthony Gill, etc., but they were always gonna be role players at best, upstairs.

Blake Buchanan will improve (hope his touch in the lane does), Ryan Dunn may not; don’t know that Anthony Robinson is an offensive machine in waiting, and maybe the recruit (not the Canadian) will help?

But to get to Final Fours, you need at least 3 NBA guys offensively. Do we have one?

I don’t see a Sweet Sixteen team, not sure I see a second day of the first weekend team.

And it will not help anything if we stumble into the tournament and lose again (this time even as expected) in the first game.

I’m a bit glass-half-empty generally, I admit. But that game in Blacksburg on national TV was humiliating.


uva 2019 national title
Photo: Chris Graham/AFP

The 2018-2019 national-title team had two first-round picks (De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome), a second-round pick (Kyle Guy), three other guys going back-and-forth between the NBA and the G League (Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Braxton Key), and a seventh guy who’s in his rookie season in the G League (Kihei Clark).

Fast forward five years to where we are now, OK, Reece Beekman is an NBA player. I see him contributing as a rotation guy right away just because of his defense, and his ability to score at three levels will come through in the right system.

Dunn’s offense is obviously quite limited right now; he’s a ceiling pick, with teams seeing his defense and freakish athleticism and thinking, we can teach him enough to be a contributor on the offensive end.

If he stays in the 2024 draft, though, I see Dunn spending most if not all of his rookie year in the G League, working on that part of his game.

I don’t know that I see anybody else on the current roster who’s NBA material.

Isaac McKneely is making himself into a two-level scorer – threes and midrange – but he’s going to have to be able to score at the rim to raise his stock, and his defense and athleticism are going to be limits for him in terms of the NBA.

He’s a G League/Euroleague guy, most likely.

One other guy: I can see Jake Groves making money overseas as a stretch four.

And … that’s it.

This roster is pre-Tony Bennett good years (2013-2014 to 2022-2023) or post-Ralph to 1994-1995) quality.

I’m not throwing shade; that just is what it is.

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].