Home UVA Basketball Notebook: Groves off the bench; Buchanan growing up; Bennett on D
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UVA Basketball Notebook: Groves off the bench; Buchanan growing up; Bennett on D

Chris Graham

Groves takes advantage of time on the bench

uva jake groves miami
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

There’s a clamor from the fans on the interwebs for Virginia coach Tony Bennett to start 6’9” sharpshooter Jake Groves, with Groves shooting the lights out of late, and Andrew Rohde struggling, but Groves seems very comfortable coming off the bench.

After his 12-point night in Virginia’s 60-38 win over Miami on Monday, Groves explained his thinking there.

“I’m kind of watching the flow of the game, kind of getting my mind right before I get in there, and just seeing what the pace looks like, how they’re guarding us and stuff like that. I mean, and then when I go in, it’s just all between the lines,” Groves said. “I mean, I don’t really see what’s going on or anything, I just play ball. And so, some of that is, I guess, probably a good thing, but it’s something that, you know, I don’t really recognize before I come in.”

Interesting that Groves set out his approach like that.

A former college assistant who was in the gym for a couple of recent Virginia games told us that he had been paying attention to Groves when he’s on the bench, and had come to the conclusion that Groves was using the first few minutes of games to scout what the opponent was doing defensively in real time.

The sentiment from the coach is that Groves, when he’s done with his playing career, is a lock to be a college coach at some point in his future, based on his apparent feel for the game.

B-Dub growing up before our eyes

uva blake buchanan miami jumper
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Blake Buchanan had what seemed, at the time, like a breakout game, way back in the second game of the season, scoring 18 points and pulling down seven rebounds in the 73-70 win over Florida.

It’s not just that easy, of course.

Buchanan, a 6’11” freshman, hasn’t had a double-digit game since, and struggled for weeks to find his niche in Bennett’s rotation.

Of late, Buchanan has settled in nicely as the backup center, with the emergence of fifth-year senior Jordan Minor as the starter at the five spot.

Buchanan had a nice outing in the win over Miami on Big Monday, with six points (3-of-7 FG), two rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 22 minutes off the bench, and a plus/minus rating of +25.

Buchanan’s teammates were a big help to him as he battled through the tough period of adjustment from the preps to the college game, he told reporters after the game Monday night.

“They told me, just, it’s part of it, just to fight through, like, this is gonna happen. It’s not, like, it’s not uncommon. You just got to keep your head up and keep pushing through,” Buchanan said.

A little bit of the old-fashioned putting the nose to the grindstone on his part has played a role in his development as well.

“I just started kind of getting back in the gym more at night, you know, kind of doing what got me to play playing good at the beginning, and staying a little bit more consistent with my game, and just kind of getting more confidence,” Buchanan said.

Tony on the Pack Line

uva tony bennett
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

The Virginia defense struggled so much around the New Year that Bennett put his team in, yes, the zone on a handful of possessions in the blowout losses at Memphis and Notre Dame.

The issues seem to be worked out now, to say the least.

Not only the 38-point outing from Miami on Monday night, but over the course of the recent and active seven-game winning streak, Virginia has allowed opponents 0.897 points per possession, which as a season-long number would rank second nationally, just to give you context on what that number means.

“I think that’s been part of this resurgence of our team,” Bennett said. “This year, our defense has gotten a little more stingy and a little more connected, and it’s something, though, the saying says, the defense never rests. The second you think you have it defensively, it’s gone. And you have to just, you know, have an iron will and a mindset in how you practice, and how these guys will approach it. And the choice is all of ours, and theirs. Will they continue on in this path because they found an identity, and it has to stick that way.”

Chemistry

uva basketball bench
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

It took a while for Bennett to figure out what he had rotation-wise, but he seems to have things set – with Minor and Buchanan holding down the five spot, Ryan Dunn doing what he does at the four, Groves splitting minutes between the frontcourt and the third guard spot, Reece Beekman and Isaac McKneely stabilizing the backcourt, with contributions off the bench from Dante Harris and Taine Murray.

OK, we still have the Rohde problem.

But still.

By and large, the rotation that has won its last seven games is the team that Bennett will ride into March.

“Right now, we’re obviously playing our best basketball of the year, which is awesome, considering it’s February, and I think a lot of that is due to the rotation, the roles that guys have kind of stepped into and the guys are finding. You know, we have a really solid first five that gets us going on the right foot, and then we’ve got guys off the bench who can come and contribute big-time,” said Groves, the future coach.

You’ve heard about how winning can be contagious. That’s the feeling in the Virginia bunch right now.

“I think, you know, us fixing the rotation, and guys kind of accepting those roles and jumping into them is the reason behind the win streak,” Groves said. “And then you start stringing one, two, three, four games together, and, you know, it’s crazy how a team’s confidence can change. And so, I think we’re a very, very confident group right now, which is great. And you know, I think as Coach Bennett would say, you’ve just got to keep getting better every single day.”

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].