Virginia Basketball was able to get a win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Michigan. What are some takeaways from the Cavaliers’ side?
Virginia Basketball pulled out a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night, adding to what is already one of the most impressive non-conference resumes in college basketball. While Michigan might not be as high caliber of an opponent like Illinois and Baylor, this win rings just as large because of the raucous environment of a true road game against a quality Big Ten team.
Virginia displayed why they are one of the premier teams in all of college basketball and after the first three weeks of the season, the clear front-runner in the ACC before conference play begins. They’re a balanced scoring team, they’re insanely efficient on offense, they’re opportunistic rebounders as well as seasoned, and possess a continuity that many contenders don’t have. Many of these qualities showed on Tuesday night and below, I’ll break down the biggest takeaways from a win that should prove that the Cavaliers are a team that’s for real.
Defensive adjustments make the difference
Michigan pulled off a feat in that first half that won’t often be replicated against any Tony Bennett-coached team: score 45 points in a half. The Wolverines clicked and got open three-point looks as well as easy buckets near the rim for dominant big man Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson’s post presence attracted double teams and his passing ability helped find open shooters and to Michigan’s credit, they knocked them down.
Michigan was 7/13 from three-point range in the first half and seemingly couldn’t miss. Even the tough, contested three-point attempts were falling. Jett Howard, Joey Baker, Kobe Bufkin, Jaelin Llewellyn, and Terrence Williams all knocked down first-half triples and sent Crisler Center into a frenzy. Michigan compiled 45 points in the half on a ludicrous eFG percentage of 72%.
The second half was a completely different story. Virginia clamped down the perimeter and after a 7-13 three-point shooting first half, Michigan made only one of their six attempts in the second. The Cavaliers also did an amazing job of slowing the game down (a staple of this program) and Michigan went from being able to attempt 31 field goal attempts in the first half to only 19 in the second. Some of that field goal attempt discrepancy came from Virginia finally forcing some turnovers with their defense but the pace slowed down significantly from one half to the next. The ability to make adjustments at halftime in order to dictate the terms and conditions of the second half was a key reason why Virginia was able to erase that 11-point halftime deficit.
According to Bennett, the difference in guarding the perimeter and their approach to doubling Dickinson made the difference in first and second-half defensive production.
"“We talked about how we went to trap the post and they skipped it out so fast and hit some three’s. So, then we played him one-on-one with guards digging and then he (Dickinson) just had his way with us. We kind of weren’t taking anything away so at halftime we said ‘Look, we’re either going to toughen up and make them earn and get stingy defensively or we’re not going to be able to get back in this thing,’” Bennett said after the game. “I felt we pressured the ball more in the second half. We just flew around and made catches harder for the interiors and we got to shooters on the ball.”"
It’s also worth noting the most important play of the game came from Virginia’s dominant defensive half as Jayden Gardner stripped Jett Howard as he attempted a desperation heave at the buzzer. It was a great defensive play with quick hands and instinct (and a great no-call on the part of the officials).
Reece Beekman and Ben Vander Plas step up in both halves.
Guard Reece Beekman kept the Cavaliers in the game offensively in the opening half, scoring 15 of his team-high 18 points in the opening frame to help weather the barrage of Michigan buckets. He made a three-pointer, got in the lane at will, and facilitated the offense to keep pace with the Wolverines. A second-half injury to his ankle took him out of the game momentarily but his first half impact kept them within striking range.
Transfer stretch forward Ben Vander Plas became an x-factor in the second half. He scored nine of his ten points in that half and was called upon to help out defensively with Dickinson and held his own despite giving up half a foot in height.
The Ohio transfer knocked down a big three-pointer late in the game to give Virginia a little bit of a cushion and when stellar defensive anchor Kadin Shedrick fouled out, he along with Gardner provided the relief necessary to hold on in the final minutes.
Virginia found a different way to win the game.
The biggest and most important takeaway from this game is that Virginia won this game out of their comfort zone. Coming into the contest, they were a 44% three-point shooting team with three-pointers making up a large chunk of their shot portfolio. They also had the country’s highest assist percentage and relied heavily on great passing to create their chances.
In Tuesday night’s win, they only attempted eight threes (even though they made four of them). They were forced to beat Michigan in the paint and despite Dickinson’s five blocks and dominant presence on the other side of the floor, still outscored the Wolverines 44-24 in the painted area. Shedrick (12 points) and Gardner (12 points) scored whenever they got into the paint and were efficient enough to help chip away at the deficit whenever the game slowed down in the second half.
Virginia also won this game without generating a ton of assists. For a team that came into this game with assists on 71% of their made field goals (first in college basketball), they only generated 12 assists on their 31 made baskets (with Clark and Beekman accounting for nine of them).
To top things off, their leading scorer, Armaan Franklin, was held to only two points on 1-6 shooting from the field. This forced the need for additional scoring from guys like Vander Plas (10 points off the bench) and Clark (16 points). The Cavaliers still managed to find a scoring balance with five players scoring in double figures without their leading scorer mustering more than one made basket.
This win proved that Virginia can play out of its comfort zone, especially on the road against a quality opponent. For a team that already has neutral court wins against Baylor and Illinois, this win in Michigan might be their most impressive yet given how they won the game along with an impressive display of their adaptability.