Excitingly, the Virginia Cavaliers defeated the Florida Gators 73-70 behind an effective defense late in the game. The ‘Hoos move to 2-0 on the young season with a major win against their first legitimate competition. With this win, we have five takeaways for UVA after a game that tells us a lot about this team for the rest of the season.
Blake Buchanan is UVA’s starting center
Blake Buchanan made the difference in this match.
Through 5:02 of play in the first half, Florida led this game 14-7. All 14 of the Gators’ points came in the paint. Then Blake Buchanan entered the game for Jake Groves, and the scenario shifted.
Florida scored just four more points in the paint in the first half, and the ‘Hoos went on an 11-0 run as a result. Buchanan’s length, strength, mobility and overall physicality made a major difference for UVA in the paint.
But it wasn’t just his defensive efforts that helped Virginia reach the W. After scoring a meager point in his career debut, Buchanan scored 18 (!!!!) to lead the team against the Gators . He was dominant on short throws all night, and while his free throw shooting (10-16, 62.5%) was nothing pretty, it got the job done. He shot 4-7 from the floor, and five of his seven rebounds came on the offensive glass, helping the ‘Hoos score 11 second-chance points. Buchanan even fouled Micah Handlogten out of the game in the final minutes, denying the Gators the biggest offensive advantage.
Starting center Jake Groves wasn’t entirely bad in this game — hell, he was UVA’s third-leading scorer with 12 points and a pair of threes. But Buchanan is significantly better defensively than Groves and can clearly produce on the other end, so he should be the guy for Virginia moving forward.
After watching this performance, saying Buchanan should be the starter probably isn’t the boldest move. But the simple fact that this is the case over two games is incredible if we are on the curve of Tony Bennett’s big men. There is no other UVA great who has had this kind of early impact in their true freshman season, and it bodes incredibly well for Buchanan’s future.
Defensive rebounds and free throws could be a problem
As good as Blake Buchanan was in this game, even he and Ryan Dunn couldn’t limit the damage on the defensive boards against the Gators and Micah Handlogten. Florida racked up 21 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points in this one, with Handlogten grabbing eight offensive rebounds of his own.
On the one hand, Handlogten is simply very good at offensive rebounding. He kept the ball alive consistently and the Gators crashed the boards hard to take advantage of his abilities. On the other hand, Virginia’s lack of size and real physicality up front has contributed to Handlogten’s dominance, and that could be a real point of weakness for the team all season this season. Ideally, Buchanan and Dunn will be able to batten down the hatches. But it’s not sure.
Offensively, after Virginia struggled mightily at the charity stripe without being punished for it in its season opener against Tarleton State, things got much tougher against the Gators with UVA shooting 14-24 (58%). ) during his free throw attempts. The aforementioned Buchanan had his ups and downs throughout the game, and while it’s hard to blame a true freshman, it wasn’t pretty.
Aside from him, Reece Beekman going 1-4, including two misses late in the second half, was odd. If Buchanan can hit 70% and Beekman (a career 78% free throw shooter) can hit consistently, it probably won’t be a big deal. But it’s worth noting since UVA has struggled at the line for two games.
UVA’s rotation is down to seven guys when it counts
Only eight players entered the game for Virginia tonight, and Leon Bond – one of the stars of the season opener – played just four minutes in the first half. That also meant Merrimack transfer Jordan Minor and junior guard Taine Murray didn’t see the floor.
Frankly, it’s not that surprising that Murray and Minor are out of the rotation right now. Murray is a very good player, but he doesn’t do one thing well enough to really push for minutes on the court. And while Minor brings more size and strength in the paint, he doesn’t compare to Buchanan and he played four years in 2-3 zone defense, so it will take time for him to adjust to a defensive system much more demanding.
Bond playing less shows what a 6’5″ frontcourt player he is and Florida is a big team that has dominated UVA on the glass. His minutes will likely depend on the games this season, but that doesn’t mean that He won’t be a valuable situational player.
Otherwise, Beekman, McKneely, Dunn, Buchanan, Rohde, Groves and Harris are currently in rotation. Minutes could fluctuate depending on who is playing well and who the Cavaliers are lined up against. But this match confirmed that they are currently top seven in Bennett’s eyes.
Virginia pays attention to Reece Beekman
The wording may be off, but the Wahoo staff made a conscious effort not to put too much on Beekman’s plate early in the season. After a hamstring strain hampered him during the second half of last season, Bennett held back from forcing Beekman to carry all the load for the ‘Hoos thus far.
It’s subtle, but Beekman’s 14 minutes in the first half combined with the fact that he wasn’t locked down on Florida’s best player, Riley Kugel, indicates that the Cavaliers know that Beekman’s impact on offense and late in the game is paramount to their success. Rather than running him for 38 minutes and making him the primary point-of-attack defender against Kugel, UVA played Beekman off the ball as much as reasonably possible and kept its first half a bit more reserved before sending him there for the entire second half. .
For a program whose stars already passed away in March, this is a great development. The 20 minutes of the second half are a bit scary considering the season-long implications, but a win is a win. Rotating who guarded who in the backcourt also allowed Beekman to have late legs when the team needed him to get to the rim, and it paid off. Oh, and he also managed to steal the game on Florida’s final possession.
To analyze his performance a little more, Beekman played quite well considering the high expectations placed on him. He filled the stat sheet with 13 points, five assists, three rebounds, four steals and a block and even had two triples in four attempts. There were times when he struggled to get to the rim against Florida’s size (he shot 3-9 from two-point range), but in the end he did what needed to be done.
Rohde, McKneely and Harris scores are the X factor
Beekman will score his points, and he will put Buchanan in the paint and shooters around the floor. But the ability of this team’s complementary guards to create offense on their own could very well be the X-factor of Virginia’s offense.
In the first half, the trio of Rohde, McKneely and Harris combined for 17 points with Rohde hitting tough catch-and-shoot jumpers, McKneely threatening the Gators from the outside and Harris knocking down some truly impressive mid-range jumpers off the dribble.
In the second half, those three only totaled five, all coming from McKneely. Part of the reason for this is that Beekman played the entire second half and dominated the ball (as he should), and Buchanan and Groves bailed out the team with 14 and 10 points in the final 20 minutes, respectively.
But for this offense to be reliable and multifaceted and to prevent defenses from just grabbing Beekman, the other three guards in the rotation will need to make plays to create a secondary offense. That’s not to say they can’t or didn’t do it in this game – they really did in the first half. This result just highlights how valuable their cumulative impact can be, especially if it’s consistent throughout 40 minutes.