Yes, UVA Hoops fans, that one was ugly: But it was a win

uva basketballYou don’t have to be the best team in the country. Just the best team in the gym. Keep that in mind when putting UVA’s 46-26 win over Maine in context.

The ‘Hoos shot 38.6 percent, had 13 turnovers, even got outrebounded by a team picked eighth in the nine-team America East in the preseason.

Just win, baby.

And a night after #1 Duke lost at home as a 27.5-point favorite, and two nights after #3 Michigan State lost to a Virginia Tech team tabbed 14th in the ACC in the preseason, don’t look the gift horse in the mouth, is what I’m trying to say here.

The Cavaliers were shorthanded – playing without starters Braxton Key and Kody Stattmann.

It was to the extent that walk-ons Chase Coleman and Jayden Nixon each got double-digit minutes.

“I like the effort of Chase and Jayden, our walk-ons. They came in and they fought, and even for a little bit, Papi (Francisco Caffaro) was in there and fought,” coach Tony Bennett said afterward. “Can’t say that about everybody, but there was, you know, we just got to keep finding some more ways to challenge ourselves with effort and continue to, you know, work on our shooting.”

Ugh, yeah, the shooting. The aforementioned 38.6 percent from the field, 6-of-18 (33.3 percent) from three, which, sad as it is to say, was actually a step up for a team shooting 25.2 percent from behind the arc for the season.

“I know that’s obviously a big eyesore,” Bennett said. “Guys are hesitant at times and uncertain, but hopefully as we get healthier, we’ll be better, but the competition certainly will step up and that will reveal even more.”

The concerns from the perimeter: let’s start with Casey Morsell, who had seemed to snap out of it with his big effort in the win over Arizona State over the weekend, in which he scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Morsell, a freshman, was back to his early-season form against Maine, scoring four points on 1-of-8 shooting, 0-of-4 from three.

JUCO transfer Tomas Woldetensae is still due his first breakout game. The 6’5” lefty had three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

A 47.6 percent shooter from three last season, he’s shooting 15.8 percent (3-of-19) this season.

They’re getting minutes, though – Morsell is averaging 30.7, Woldetensae 25.3 – which says two things.

The positive: you don’t get on the floor for Tony Bennett if you can’t play D, so he feels comfortable enough with each to leave them out there despite their shooting issues.

The negative: there really aren’t a lot of other options, with Key and Stattmann out, and there being absolutely no one else on scholarship at guard behind them.

Enough with the bad stuff. The good: how about that D?

Maine shot 18.6 percent (8-of-43). It was so bad for the Black Bears that they had 14 points in the first half, and actually scored less than that in the second half.

As the final couple of minutes ticked down, I thought back to a game almost five years ago to the day – Nov. 29, 2014.

I followed the UVA basketball team to Barclays Center for a Friday-Saturday mini-tournament, and the Friday night game, against Rutgers, ended in a 45-26 final.

Consider that the ‘Hoos on that team included the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, London Perrantes.

I remind you of that to make the point: yes, conceding the point that this team is winning some ugly ones, but that team won 30 games.

It was also a lot more talented than this team, not casting aspersions in saying that, but, I mean, look at all of those NBA guys.

This one may be better on defense, though.

It’s early, but these ‘Hoos are allowing 40.3 points per game, .787 points per possession, holding opponents to 28.8 percent shooting.

They scored 46 points Wednesday night, and won by 20.

The shooting will come around. I keep saying that, and I keep believing it. Morsell and Woldetensae didn’t just all the sudden forget how to shoot after all these years.

If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say it’s figuring out what they need to do in the Pack Line. Once they get 100 percent comfortable there, the shots will start falling. Bank on it.

And then, think back to Duke, Michigan State, add in Kentucky and its early, ugly loss to Evansville.

The top teams in college basketball this year would have been somewhere in the 12-15 range in the Top 25 last year, if that.

As much as you might feel your ‘Hoos are struggling, they’re as good as anybody in the country right now.

We might just end up in Atlanta this April, if we can get some outside shooting, and keep playing that historically elite defense.

Now, go eat some turkey, and get ready for Black Friday.

Story by Chris Graham

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