Home Tony Bennett, staff have work cut out for them with makeshift Virginia roster

Tony Bennett, staff have work cut out for them with makeshift Virginia roster

reece beekman
Tony Bennett and Virginia point guard Reece Beekman. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

And you thought the ‘Hoos were limited the year that got cut short by COVID. OK, they were, but that group looks like a juggernaut compared to this year’s group.

“I don’t want to say we were pressed. I think we were getting good shots. We just didn’t knock some down,” point guard Reece Beekman said, after Virginia fell in its season opener, 66-58, to Navy on Tuesday.

The loss was marred by an eight-minute stretch late in which the Cavaliers went scoreless.

The stat line for that stretch:

  • 0-of-7 shooting from the field
  • 0-of-2 on free throws
  • four turnovers

As the shots bricked and air-balled, the ‘Hoos seemed to get tight, leading to the turnovers – guys being reluctant to miss the shot, passing it like a hot potato to the next guy, forcing looks that weren’t there.

“I tell our guys, when you have an open shot, I don’t care if you miss it, if it’s a good shot, you take it with confidence, and then you’re on to the next, and you have to play that way,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “It’s like putting and chipping golf. All the sudden, things can get in your head, you miss a couple easy ones and rhythm ones, and then you doubt a little bit, and got to kind of play through that stuff.”

They didn’t, last night, play through that stuff. It was the exact opposite, coming off as if nobody wanted to be the guy to screw up, like they were looking around to see who would step up and take over.

The most likely candidate to be that guy, Beekman, who had an otherwise decent game – eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, six assists, just one turnover in 37 minutes – was part of the problem down the stretch, missing his only field-goal attempt, clanking two free throws down four with 2:51 to go, turning the ball over with an offensive foul with 53 ticks on the clock.

“I felt like we were getting what we wanted, but the outcome wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to go,” Beekman said. “I feel like we just stay within ourselves and stick to our offense, and we will be good.”

Um, no.

Virginia scored .921 points per possession against Navy, and respect due to the Middies, they play in the Patriot League.

They’re good Patriot League – 15-3 last season – but still Patriot League.

The issue on the offensive end is that the best lineup backcourt-wise – featuring Beekman, senior point guard Kihei Clark and Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin – is two slashers who can’t shoot and one who can, but last night mostly shot and missed, badly.

Franklin was 2-of-11 from the floor in the loss, 1-of-7 from three.

Clark, who earned praise from Bennett for his work in the offseason on his jump shot, was 3-of-9 from the floor and 2-of-7 from three.

Beekman had also earned praise from Bennett for his work on his jumper.

It wasn’t evident Tuesday night.

“You’re used to seeing our group last year, and it’s a little different,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to get on the glass and do different things. Reece is going to obviously be an important player for us this year, but he showed moments of some good basketball. He has very quick hands. He’s got an uncanny knack for tipping balls or making some plays that way.”

Navy, on its side, made it look easy, clogging up action on ball screens, staying close to Franklin as he worked to try to get open.

The only guy who was able to get going consistently was East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner, who had 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and showed deft touch around the rim.

The solution there to deal with Gardner from Navy coach Ed DeChellis: going zone.

“I thought Virginia, in the first half, was chewing us up inside too many touches in the paint. Second half, I thought we were a little better. I thought the zone helped us the last six, eight minutes of the game,” DeChellis said.

Um, yeah. You saw the numbers above.

The Virginia side seemed utterly unprepared for the zone. Granted, it’s a group with a lot of new guys, and last night was its first real, live game together, but it came off like there had been no preparation for what to do if Navy went zone.

Teams past used sets that would put a three or a big who can shoot just south of the foul line with the intent of using that player as a pivot to either draw defenders and kick out to the perimeter, to a big cutting back door on the baseline, or if the defense sagged, take the elbow jumper.

There were maybe one or two efforts at that last night. The other possessions had guys standing around on the perimeter, passing the ball to each other as the shot clock drained, ahead of either rushing a contested shot or forcing a pass into coverage.

“There was a level of patience at times and aggressiveness. Some turnovers kind of led to that, and I thought we did get away from that. We’re a work in progress that way,” Bennett said. “I think there was some good and some struggles. I thought we did that for the first part of the second half, and then we lost our way a little bit. But Navy’s a good team, they put a lot of pressure on us with our defense, and I think maybe they wore us down. It’s always a battle who’s going to outlast who, and I think they wore us down and outlasted us in this one.”

Let those words sink in.

Virginia let itself get Cavalanched by Navy last night.

Bennett somehow figured out how to get the 2019-2020 group to finish second in the ACC before COVID, and I had that one as his best coaching job, even better than the job that he did winning a national championship a year earlier.

If he gets this group to a Last Four In tournament berth, it would eclipse anything he’s done or could ever do in the future.

Story by Chris Graham



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