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Report Card: Final grades for 2020-2021 Virginia Basketball

uva basketball
Photo credit: Johnnie Izquierdo / Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

The writers pegged Virginia in the preseason to win the ACC, which, that happened. They also had the Cavaliers contending for a national title. Didn’t end up that way.

It was an up-and-down season – COVID pauses forcing the cancellation of marquee matchups with Michigan State and Villanova, but bringing a surprise game with Gonzaga that, ahem, didn’t work out so well.

An 11-1 start in ACC play, then a three-game losing streak, ahead of somehow rallying and winning the regular-season title.

A win over a Syracuse team now in the Sweet 16 at the buzzer in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, then another COVID pause.

The loss to an Ohio team that wasn’t competitive in its Round of 32 loss to a middling Creighton team wrapped us up.

Promise, unfulfilled.

Time to break it down.

Note: Counting numbers and ORtg/DRtg data from; individual defense PPP data from Synergy Sports.

Overview: Offense

  • Counting numbers: 68.2 ppg (@37), 47.4% FG (37), 37.5% 3FG (32), 81.6% FT (3), 11.5 FTA/g (347)
  • KenPom: 1.146 PPP (18), 55.4% effective field goal percentage (15)
  • BartTorvik: 1.139 PPP (20), 55.4% effective field goal percentage (14)

Rotation guys: Offense

  • Sam Hauser: 16.0 ppg, 50.3% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 89.6% FT, 125.1 ORTg, 1.168 PP
  • Jay Huff: 13.0 ppg, 58.5% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 83.7% FT, 125.9 ORtg, 1.172 PPP
  • Trey Murphy III: 11.3 ppg, 50.3% FG, 43.3% 3FG, 92.7% FT, 129.8 ORTg, 1.237 PPP
  • Kihei Clark: 9.5 ppg, 4.5 assists/g, 41.1% FG, 32.3% 3FG, 73.4% FT, 102.0 ORtg, 0.829 PPP
  • Reece Beekman: 4.7 ppg, 3.0 assists/g, 38.2% FG, 24.3% 3FG, 75.8% FT, 101.1 ORtg, 0.752 PPP
  • Casey Morsell: 4.4 ppg, 39.6% FG, 26.3% 3FG, 63.6% FT, 90.6 ORtg, 0.808 PPP
  • Tomas Woldetensae: 4.4 ppg, 41.0% FG, 41.8% 3FG, 90.9% FT, 111.7 ORtg, 1.010 PPP
  • Justin McKoy: 3.5 ppg, 3.3 rebs/g, 48.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 80.0% FT, 109.0 ORtg, 0.918 PPP

Analysis: Offense

Tony Bennett’s issue with this team is that his best offensive producers were Hauser, Huff and Murphy, bigs who are most effective from the perimeter, none of whom can create their own shots.

The point guards – Clark and Beekman – are adept at creating shots. Problem being, neither is enough of a consistent threat on the perimeter, so opposing guards can sag off of them, dare them to shoot, which helps them keep Clark and Beekman out of the lane.

This made Virginia overly reliant on the threes falling.

When they did, largely, you’d get a W.

When they didn’t, well – the Cavaliers were under their season average of 37.5 percent from three in the losses to San Francisco, Virginia Tech, N.C. State and the finale to Ohio, and in three of those losses (Tech, State and Ohio), threes were at least 46.2 percent of the shot attempts from the floor.

The number of shots at the rim, per, was down to 16.8 per game this year. The past two Virginia teams had averaged 18.0 shots at the rim per game.

Less rim shots, less attacking in general, too much settling, basically.

It could be that this team was too good a shooting team for its own good, oddly.

Offense Grade: B

Overview: Defense

  • Counting numbers: 60.5 ppg (6), 41.6% FG (75), 33.9% 3FG (194), 74.9% FT (324), 13.1 FTA/g (7)
  • KenPom: 0.927 PPP (33), 48.0% effective field goal percentage (78)
  • BartTorvik: 0.938 PPP (38), 48.0% effective field goal percentage (74)

Rotation guys: Defense

  • Jay Huff: 91.8 DRtg, 0.858 PPP
  • Justin McKoy: 99.3 DRtg, 0.750 PPP
  • Sam Hauser: 100.2 DRtg, 0.590 PPP
  • Reece Beekman: 100.4 DRtg, 0.878 PPP
  • Tomas Woldetensae: 101.5 DRtg, 0.764 PPP
  • Trey Murphy III: 101.9 DRtg, 0.772 PPP
  • Casey Morsell: 103.3 DRtg, 0.948 PPP
  • Kihei Clark: 106.0 DRtg, 0.813 PPP

Analysis: Defense

It was telling how Bennett tweaked his lineup in the regular-season finale at Louisville, benching Hauser and Huff for almost the entire last 10 minutes to go with a six-man rotation with Beekman, Clark, Woldetensae, Morsell, Murphy and McKoy, sacrificing offense for defense after Louisville had cut a double-digit margin to four.

UVA closed out a 68-58 victory with its two best offensive weapons on the sidelines.

Fast forward to the NCAA Tournament loss to Ohio, and Bobcats coach Jeff Boals said postgame that Bennett’s small-ball lineup had given his team fits, but when Huff checked back in, he was able to go back to his preferred lineup, with went on a 10-0 run to take control.

Bennett didn’t have motor four McKoy available as he did for the Louisville game, with McKoy at home recovering from COVID-19.

A bigger factor than the lack of practice leading up to the game might have been not having McKoy, who had averaged 17.0 minutes per game in the three-game winning streak ahead of the NCAA Tournament, contributing 4.8 points and 6.0 rebounds and his usual energy on both ends, particularly on defense.

Telling down the stretch was that Boals ran high pick-and-rolls on consecutive possessions with Ohio up two and in need of a bucket, and got easy layups off breakdowns on the back end of the Pack Line on both.

Hauser and Murphy were out of position on both.

They were out of position a lot as Gonzaga was 21-of-29 at the rim in the 98-75 win on Dec. 26.

For all the great on-ball defense up front from Clark and Beekman, for the elite rim protection that UVA got from Huff, who averaged 2.6 blocks per game, if you can’t guard the screen-and-roll, which the Pack Line is designed to completely take away, you’re not playing good Pack Line defense.

Telling stat here: according to Hoop-Math, UVA opponents averaged 18.7 shots at the rim in 2020-2021, up from 15.8 per game in 2019-2020.

They also averaged 10.2 makes at the rim in 2020-2021, up from 7.7 per game in 2019-2020.

That’s five points a game.

An extra five points a game with an elite shot blocker back there.

Defense Grade: B-

Final thoughts

The KenPom defense ranking, 33rd, is the worst for a Bennett UVA team since his 2012-2013 team was 25th.

That team is also the last Bennett UVA team not to make an NCAA Tournament.

This Bennett UVA team won the ACC and made a tourney appearance because it was the third-best offensive team of the past eight years.

The ceiling for this team as recently as Feb. 13, after the 60-48 win over North Carolina that put Virginia at 15-3 overall, 11-1 in the ACC, ranked seventh in the polls, seemed to be Final Four-or-bust.

The Florida State loss raised questions that dated back to the Gonzaga game. Was this team really a title contender? Or was it good at feasting on opponents that it should beat, but not good enough to beat tourney-worthy teams?

The final analysis there: Virginia was 6-3 in games involving teams invited to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the losses being the ‘Zags, FSU and Virginia Tech.

The wins: two over Syracuse, which is on another surprise Sweet 16 run, two over Georgia Tech, which went on to win the ACC Tournament, one-off wins over Clemson and UNC.

This was a good UVA team, certainly not the great one that we thought we’d see back in the preseason, or as recently as mid-February.

Of Bennett’s last eight teams, it probably ranks sixth – ahead of last year’s overachieving group that finished 23-7 with the 234rd most efficient offense in the nation, and the 2016-2017 team that was the rebuild after the losses to graduation of Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey.

It says a lot about the past eight years that an ACC regular-season champ is your sixth-best team, doesn’t it?

It just feels more like a letdown than even those teams below it because this one felt like it massively underachieved.

Final grade: B-.

Story by Chris Graham

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