It's a testament to how well Virginia basketball has performed that we feel extremely slighted with our 5-3 conference record and 14-7 overall record. Wins against Penn State and Auburn here (and perhaps Stanford as well), a non-choke down against Virginia Tech there, and a win against Wake Forest earlier today at the JPJ would have put Virginia at a lofty 7-1 in conference and 19-2 overall.
Obviously this isn't the fairest analysis, and it's easy to talk in retrospect, but I do feel that I have a point: Virginia basketball, first, needs to learn how to close games. And more importantly, the Hoos are a team that can develop into a post-season team with a bit of coaching and confidence.
Today's game against Wake Forest, while still being a loss, showed us that Cavaliers have the mettle to compete with the best teams. While the Cavaliers' lack of talent and unidimensionality are apparent, the team's ability to control Wake Forest for the majority of the game should give the UVa community hope for this team's immediate success.
“We’re just sticking to who we are,” Zeglinski said. “We keep growing defensively every day, and we know what we have to do to win. Every day is going to be a battle with us. We’re not going to go out and blow teams out. We grind. We know our defense is our staple, and even if we’re not shooting well, our defense is going to be able to keep us in game until our offense comes around.”
In the game earlier today against Wake Forest, Zeginski's sentiments were proved entirely true. The defense held an explosive Wake Forest team averaging 77.2 PPG to a modest 55 points in regulation, and the Deacs were thoroughly frustrated on their offensive sets, scoring most of their points on second-chance opportunities and scraps through Aminu's play-making ability. Unfortunately, for the Cavaliers, the offense didn't come around in the end of the game.
Wake Forest and Virginia both came out playing some sort of 2-3 zone defense, challenging each other to shoot. In the first half, Virginia beat the zone through constant ball movement and in-out play. Mike Scott, who had a fabulous first-half with his post play and mid-range game, led Virginia to a 34-29 lead at the end of the first half.
Unlike Virginia's first half against NC State, I didn't really see much fault against Wake Forest in their first half play. The Cavaliers simply executed more than the Deacs.
Accordingly, Dino Gaudio (i.e. Skip Prosser II) did wonders in his adjustments in the second half. Wake Forest, superior in athleticism, sped up the game and drove to the basket with more fervor. Although the Cavaliers encouraged Wake to shoot by keeping a 2-3 zone, Wake Forest's quick guards were able to penetrate the weak side of the zone defense to draw fouls and make relatively easy layups.
Wake Forest also sped up the game by capitalizing on Ishmael Smith's down-court speed, and crashed the boards with fervor to exploit their rebounding advantage and negate Virginia's relatively good first-defensive efforts.
Wake Forest's display of fast-break basketball brought out Virginia's innate run-'n-gun personality so often displayed in the Leitao-era. The Cavaliers were extremely sloppy in the counter, however, showing that the team has perhaps physically adapted to Bennett's style of play. I presume this to be good, although that's solely my opinion.
Anyways, the end-game statistics summed up the game well: the Cavaliers shot at a 33.8-clip (they shot around 48 percent at half), Wake Forest at a more respectable 44-clip. Both were miserable from three-point land, and the game statistically-speaking was pretty pedestrian.
Teams have bad shooting nights. Teams also lose a few games here or there. In having these types of nights, Virginia basketball has at least shown that they will still battle and compete, and this should give us hope for the future and the now.
These statistics and game patterns as a whole confirm my belief that Virginia basketball can beat anyone on a good day and keep up with anyone every game. Such a statement reflects extremely well on Tony Bennett's coach performance.
I recognize that I've been giving Bennett a lot of praise recently, but he deserves it. His coaching presence is literally a demonstrative factor on a team—Washington State is giving up nearly 15 points more per game this season than they gave up last season, and Virginia's defense has inversely improved by nearly the same amount.
These statistics and intangibles give me immediate hope for a Virginia post-season run, whether it be a place in the NCAA tournament or a deep run in the NIT. I place complete faith in Tony Bennett's ability to continue coaching the Cavaliers for the better. Although Bennett's offensive style will always be contingent on good shooting, I have a gut feeling that Bennett will be focusing the next few practices on more offensive diversity, shot creation, and dribble-drive.
A more-complete Cavaliers team will be a dangerous team, and Bennett has shown through his half-time adjustments that he recognizes that. With more time and creation of team unity, Virginia basketball will be able to compete and defeat the more athletic teams it will face along the road, hopefully in the post-season.