The Virginia men’s basketball team looked elite in its first game of the year, rolling to an 89-54 victory over Towson. Two days later, Tony Bennett’s team fell to unranked San Francisco 61-60.
The two games feel like extremes.
It is unlikely Virginia (1-1) knocks down 15 3-pointers and reaches 80 points in most games, especially given its offensive tempo. At the same time, the loss doesn’t reveal anything overly alarming about UVa.
The Cavaliers shot poorly and lacked toughness in some of their finishing attempts near the rim against San Francisco. Defensively, Virginia needs improvement despite being a better defensive team than most.
There’s room to grow, which makes sense two games into a season with a disjointed offseason.
UVa’s national championship hopes aren’t dashed with a loss in November. It’s also fair to pump the brakes on the Virginia hype, waiting for the Cavaliers to develop before projecting them to reach the Final Four months in the future.
“Nothing is assumed just because of what’s on the front of your jersey,” Bennett said Friday. “You just work and I think some of the concerns or question marks we had showed, they didn’t get answered. We now go to work and say, ‘What can we do to be better?’ and use this in the best way possible, and that’s all I know how to do.”
Question marks for UVa include its defensive execution.
The Pack Line defense typically frustrates foes, and both Towson and San Francisco struggled in stretches. The Dons, however, found ways to score from beyond the arc. The result was a 61-point offensive showing and 13 made 3-pointers.
Last year, UVa allowed 60 points just once in its first 10 games of the season. With Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key graduated, the Cavaliers are adjusting to a new lineup that includes a pair of impact transfers in Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III as well as freshmen working into the mix. There will be adjustments defensively as the Cavaliers try to figure out their rotation.
“We lost two terrific, physical, active defenders who could play on the glass and we got to keep fighting and trying to find our way in regards to that,” Bennett said.
The defense remains one of the top units in the nation, but it’s not quite up to Bennett’s lofty standards yet. Offensively, the Cavaliers have weapons, but they’ll want to find a player or two to lean on when they need a basket.
Friday against San Francisco, six Virginia players took at least five shots. Ten UVa players took at least two shots. Hauser led the way with 11 shots, seeming like UVa’s go-to option down the stretch.
Star center Jay Huff, however, only shot twice in 26 minutes. The NBA prospect’s lack of offensive involvement against a mid-major is confusing.
A game after making 15 shots from 3-point range against Towson, UVa made just 21 total shots against the Dons. Finding an offensive rhythm proved to be a challenge against San Francisco, with most of UVa’s players struggling to connect on their shot attempts.
“We seemed like we almost couldn’t miss, and this game became a little more difficult,” said forward Justin McKoy, who scored 11 points in 18 minutes Friday. “We didn’t shoot it as well and that definitely plays a part in it, but I think also, our coaches prepare us, we just got to attack in different ways on the offensive end.”
Two games into the season, it is clear UVa is more gifted offensively than it was a season ago. The Cavaliers scored 89 points in its first game, surpassing last year’s season-high in scoring by 11 points. In game No. 2, the offense struggled, and the Cavaliers still scored 60 points. Last season, Virginia scored 60 points in just four of its 10 nonconference games.
Defensively, UVa needs game reps to better develop chemistry and cohesiveness.
Even with an upset loss to San Francisco just two games into the season, Virginia possesses plenty of talent and depth. Losing isn’t a reason for UVa fans, player or coaches to panic. It is, however, a wake-up call after a nearly perfect opening-night performance.
Virginia is still an elite team and program. It also needs to improve on both ends of the floor.