Who are the Hoos? The Ups and Downs of Virginia

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 15th, 2016

When the Virginia Cavaliers dropped two consecutive games on the road against the Techs of the ACC (in-state rival Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), serious questions about how good Tony Bennett’s squad started to pop up. They opened last year on a tear and were among the nation’s best teams until Justin Anderson’s injury. Now, with Anderson permanently gone (to the NBA) the Cavaliers look suddenly vulnerable. Could losses to two of the ACC’s least sexy outfits signal more troubles to come?

Tony Bennett's Team Has Struggled On The Road This Season (AP)

Tony Bennett’s Team Has Struggled On The Road This Season (AP)

The Cavaliers silenced some of the doubters by beating a good Miami team on Tuesday. But while the nice win washed away some of the concern, the cracks in Virginia’s armor are still very noticeable. The most glaring difference between its losses last week and the Miami win this week is where the games were played. The Cavs topped Miami at home, while both losses came on the road. Virginia has only played four true road games to date and has struggled mightily in them, losing three of four.

Digging into the stats a bit reveals that on the road, Virginia has not been playing nearly as effectively as we’ve come to expect a Tony Bennett coached team to play.

uva home and road

Less assists and more jump shots are not a part of Tony Bennett’s strategy for his team. Even on a team loaded with shooters, Bennett would prefer not to rely on the three-point shot. These problems stand out when looking at what UVA’s four leading scorers have done at home and on the road this year:

uva home road players

Taken at face value, trading more points from Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes for less from Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey seems like a wash, but the important thing to note is how those points are being scored. Brogdon is shooting 2.5 more threes per game on the road, yet making them at a far lower percentage. Also, four prominent players — including the starting backcourt — averaging a combined 1.7 assists (!) on the road is a problem.

In lieu of the above, the simple deduction would appear to be that Virginia plays poorly on the road. Losing away from home appears to be more of a symptom than a problem, however. Virginia is 6th in the nation in offensive efficiency in large part due to the slow, patient system that Bennett preaches to his team. This season they are playing the slowest pace of all 351 Division I teams, per KenPom. That tempo has led the Hoos to incredible national ranks on the offensive side of the ball, namely effective FG percentage (23rd), three-point percentage (22nd), percentage of shots blocked (11th), and turnover percentage (9th). Tony Bennett wants his team to work on offense to find the easiest shot available to them, and they usually do so, scoring 57.5 percent of their points on two-point baskets, 22nd most in America.

Disrupting UVA’s pace is much more difficult than pressing or trying to hurry on your own offensive possessions. If anything, that can play right into their hands as you work to speed things up, they are happy to take the opportunities given to them. Looking at the trouble Virginia has had this year, their struggles are much more about where their shots are coming from than where the game is played. The splits for their two stalwart perimeter players tell quite a story:

uva win loss 2

Brogdon and Perrantes are being relied on heavily in games the Hoos have lost this year, as opposed to Gill and Tobey. The big men’s splits tell the rest of that story:

inside uva

Despite more combined minutes in games they’ve lost, the two bigs are seeing fewer shots and fewer made buckets. Gill and Tobey are players very capable of scoring on their own, but this level of drop off speaks more to the ineffectiveness of the offense as a whole. More shots for Gill and Tobey means a higher-functioning UVA offense.

Virginia’s opponents aren’t all lucky enough to have a home game scheduled with the Cavaliers. With the Cavaliers continuing to squeeze everything they can out of every offensive possession, teams that are able to make them shoot jump shots — especially difficult jump shots influenced by late shot clock situations — will put themselves in a position to win, no matter where the game is played. This is still a methodical, mind-numbingly effective Virginia team, and every advantage an opponent can find goes a long ways.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com and has contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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2 responses to “Who are the Hoos? The Ups and Downs of Virginia”

  1. Fact Checker says:

    Check the home/away assist numbers for Perrantes/Brogdon and win/loss 3-point shooting for Brogdon. They are off.

    Garbage in, garbage out.

  2. Thanks for catching that. Brogdon’s 3-point win/loss splits were off and are now fixed. Double checked the assist numbers and they are correct per Sports-Reference (keep in mind, those are only for true road and true home games, neutral are not factored in there, while they are in the wins/losses).

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