Virginia Beat: UVA’s Offense Hits Fail Button

Just a week ago, UVA fans were flying high after a win over the hated UNC Tar Heels, and prognosticators were bullish on UVA’s chances to have a strong, NCAA-tournament-worthy season.  What a difference a week makes.  The Hoos now sit humbled at 1-2 in conference play, with losses to Clemson and Wake Forest on the road; neither team is considered a strong contender for tournament selection themselves.

UVA’s defense is (mostly) not to blame.  Oh, UVA had its breakdowns, to be sure, particularly against Wake Forest where the Hoos allowed too many baseline drives – a cardinal sin in Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense.  But where the real problems lied in the week’s games were on the offensive end, where UVA averaged only 48 points in the two contests, and worse yet, barely 8 points every 10 possessions.  Both are anemic numbers that should send the coaches scurrying to the film to diagnose the problems.

The film isn’t necessary to see every problem, though.  Poor shooting will hurt you every time, and the Cavaliers displayed plenty of that.  Star scorer Joe Harris shot just 10-for-27 in the two games, and UVA’s combined three-point efforts yielded just 8 makes in 28 attempts.  Harris was 2-for-7 from long range against Clemson; Evan Nolte was 1-for-7 against Wake Forest.  Only one Hoo was seemingly immune from shooting woes this week – that would be Akil Mitchell and his combined 8-for-14 performance, and Mitchell is supposed to be the one playing on a swollen and injured ankle.

Not all of the shooting woes can be blamed on the shooters themselves, however.   On many trips down the floor, they’re simply not being set up for success.  This goes back to point guard play, which can only be summed up in one word: atrocious.  Turnovers badly plagued the Hoos against Wake Forest.  They had 17, which is nearly as many buckets as they made in the game and exactly as many as they would make against Clemson a few days later.  Senior point guard Jontel Evans has been back from a foot injury for several games now, and is quickly losing the ability to claim rust as an excuse for his poor play.  Evans had four turnovers against Wake and another five against Clemson, and those numbers don’t count the shot-clock violations which are charged to the team rather than an individual.

Indeed, Evans’s play against Clemson was about as bad as any point guard could have done.  His five turnovers don’t tell the story.  Evans showed absolutely no awareness of the shot clock, or for that matter, the game clock: with five seconds to go in the first half, he casually moseyed the ball up the court and denied his team any decent chance at a buzzer-beating shot.  Evans seemed content to dribble around the half-court with no destination in mind.  He picked up his dribble at the worst times and was often paralyzed with indecision, which led to turnovers and never putting his teammates in position for an open shot.

With a week off before their next game, against Florida State on Saturday, the Hoos have a lot of time to work on their problems.  The coaches might well use the time to assess whether the 33 minutes given to Evans in the Clemson game are too much; under his direction, the offense clearly choked and sputtered like a stubborn engine.  Whatever the adjustments, they must be good ones.  FSU’s defense this year is a shadow of its former elite self, but Leonard Hamilton has not forgotten how to coach.  UVA, if it harbors hope of making it to the NCAA tournament for another consecutive year – something it hasn’t done since 1995 – can’t afford to fall into a deep hole.

Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

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