After some concerning performances at the Fort Myers Tip-Off, Virginia Basketball respond with a gritty victory against #14 Texas A&M at home.
Tony Bennett and Virginia Basketball returned home to Jon Paul Jones arena for a great matchup as part of the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge – the replacement of the ACC/BigTen Challenge.
Their SEC opponents were the #14th ranked Texas A&M Aggies led by head coach Buzz Williams who is a familiar face in Charlottesville as he was the previous coach for the rival Virginia Tech Hokies from 2014-2019. Buzz Williams charged into Hooville one more time with a great roster that can shoot and defend well, and the Cavs were able to come out on top.
This is a statement win on the season, and certainly gives a bit of an idea where this team is at as need by the key takeaways below.
1. Ryan Dunn
A lot of people predicted the Ryan Dunn was going to be special, not quite as many realized his presence would be felt this much this soon. Dunn has provided a much-needed spark for the Cavs in more ways than one. Against Texas A&M, he showed some ability from three hitting 2-4. He finished the night with 12 points scoring from deep and inside, but also more impressively finished with 5 blocks. Four of which came almost consecutively in crunch time. His explosiveness to rise up and dunk, block, and even shoot as he did tonight is a momentum builder and energy shifter that is absolutely vital to the production of the team.
Outside of Ryan Dunn, Virginia’s four other starters also all finished with double digits scoring. Reece Beekman picked up 2 blocks and 3 steals which is rather natural for him, but still impressive, and even Andrew Rhode led the way with 6 total rebounds. That all being said, the Cavaliers are showing to be a low scoring team which is by design to a degree, but certainly what could hold the team back in future matchups especially in ACC play.
The defense is great as always – the Cavs turned he Aggies over 16 times, picking up 8 blocks and steals along the way, but the offense is missing a stable piece. There is only so much to do with 59 possessions in a game as Virginia was productive based on the looks they got, but maybe at times an ability to push the tempo or find looks earlier in the shot clock could be key in tighter matchups. In every game from Texas Southern an on, the Cavs have been modest or less in many offensive metrics from threes, rebounding, and overall efficiency.
A Tony Bennett team will typically like to get back in transition and defend. This formula tends to work wonders with the pack-line and lockdown defensive style Virginia typically plays with. So in that sense, you can’t expect them to dominate the offensive glass, but this year the interior presence is especially off on both sides.
There is so much young talent that will do great things as they continue to develop their game, but right now the post responsibilities are primarily put on freshman Black Buchanan, Ryan Dunn, Jake Groves, and on occasion Jordan Minor who many expected to see more have more minutes. The tallest and most true post style player of that group is Buchanan, with Dunn and Groves playing at all levels on both sides and Minor seeing minimal time at the moment.
While in reality, the Cavs can get away with defense and efficient shooting, but they really need to mitigate the level of second chance points they are allowing teams. Texas A&M out rebounded the team by twelve with 42 total rebounds. If the Aggies had not had such an uncharacteristically slow night from beyond the arc, these second chance opportunities could’ve been the downfall of the game.
4. The roster/depth
As noted earlier, the starers had a really effective night all things considered. Outside of these starters, not much can be said from the production on the bench in the game against the Aggies. This hasn’t been the case all season. Leon Bond has been a great spark off the bench with a playable slowly emerging into something similar to that of Ryan Dunn. Taine Murray is also a potential three and D type player to come off the bench and showed emphasis on his ability to drive to the basket early on in his moment of playing time.
Cavs fans also got to see a glimpse of Elijah Gertrude who originally was redshirting but came in likely due to the injury of point guard Dante Harris who was in a boot for the game as well as Beekman playing on a hurt knee. So o some degree, this can be chalked up to injuries and young faces playing bigger roles for Tony Bennett’s team, but nonetheless is something to look for as the season progresses.
The Cavaliers have three home games against Syracuse, NC Central, and Northeastern. Syracuse looks like a potentially underrated program this year and should be another test for the team. NC Central played last year’s impressive squad down to the wire, so expect some tight play there.
After Northeastern, Virginia will travel to its first true road game of the season to face a very good Memphis team. So in a lot of ways, these takeaways from the Texas A&M game can be re-examined in what should be a lineup of solid matchups for the Cavaliers. his team could very easily be ranked, or remain in limbo in the coming weeks based on these performances which will be interesting to see.