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Reality check: The ceiling isn’t the roof for this Virginia team

tony bennett uva duke
UVA coach Tony Bennett. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

You were looking forward to this Virginia basketball season. Preseason #4, ACC favorite for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era.

It’s time for a reckoning.

OK, sure, Virginia is the best team in this ACC.

That ain’t sayin’ much this year.

Time to go ahead and say it: this UVA team is good.

Which is to say, it’s not great.

Just is what it is.

Good on offense, not great. KenPom has Virginia 12th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which, pretty good.

Great? No.

The 2019 national champs were second.

The 2016 Elite Eight team was eighth.

Those were great teams.

The defense is, gulp, 24th.

Yes, there are 357 teams in D-1, so 24th is still top shelf, top 10 percent.

The last UVA team to rank that low was Tony Bennett’s last team to not make an NCAA Tournament, the 2012-2013 team that went 23-12 and won two games in the NIT.

That team was nowhere near as good as this one on offense, but this team is nowhere near as good on offense as it needs to be to make up for its issues on defense.

Bennett needs to have Jay Huff, Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III on the floor as much as possible because of what those guys can do on offense.

They’re all elite on offense.

They’re … good … on defense.

Hauser, on his way to a 19-point night in the 66-65 loss to Duke on Saturday, was thisclose to stopping Matthew Hurt from getting 22.

“We’ve talked about this. Hurt can shoot. We were kind of there, and they were tough shots, but in the second half, we were really there, and he still hit a couple, but he didn’t hit as many. That has to be the moment that ball tips,” Bennett said afterward, not mentioning Hauser by name for the breakdowns, because, come on, coach didn’t get to where he is by throwing his guys under the bus.

I won’t do that, either.

Hurt just hit some shots, man.

Dude looked like a lottery pick Saturday night.

But Bennett was right. Hauser was closing out OK in the first half, did a better job in the second half, but that was the story for the team as a whole.

“The first half, there’s just were some breakdowns that are going to happen, but those in tight games you can’t afford, and I think it was pretty easy for them to score on us in the first half. Then we were better in the second half,” Bennett said.

This has been the issue for this Virginia team pretty much all season.

In each of the five losses, you’ve not seen 40 minutes of effort on defense.

San Francisco had 40 in the second half in the 61-60 win back in November, for instance. Gonzaga made shots all afternoon in the post-Christmas beatdown.

Virginia Tech: 44 points in the second half in the 65-51 win in Blacksburg.

Florida State is still making open threes.

“You have to learn from it. You have to grow from it,” Hauser said. “Obviously watch some film on it and see where we broke down or had some breakdowns. Overall, we just have to stay together. This, it happens, you’re not going win every game, so just have to stay together, fight through this and like Coach Bennett says, you dust yourself off, and that’s the beauty of basketball, you get to come back at it.”

“‘Welcome to the ACC. I mean, that is what it is here. It’s always been that way,” Huff said. “Florida State’s always been that type of team that can give anybody a game. Same with Duke. They’ve made some changes this year, and they made some changes to the way they played us last year even. They definitely switched a lot more. So it’s just, the ACC is like that, and I think that we can get back on track, and we’ll be fine.”

I want to like the attitude, but, time for the reality check.

Sure, they’ll be fine.

But, is the ceiling of this team what you thought it was back in preseason, even a week ago?

This Virginia team might be able to win six games in March and into April.

It could also lose its opener in Indianapolis if the other side has a stretch four hitting shots.

Story by Chris Graham

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