If Virginia consistently can produce the level of offense it displayed in the second half of Tuesday night’s 70-58 win over No. 14 Michigan in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the rest of the season, maybe possessing a quality non-conference victory will become irrelevant by the time March rolls around.
Defend as well as they have so far this season and shoot as competently as they did after halftime against the Wolverines, and the Cavaliers likely will lock up an NCAA tournament bid during their ACC slate.
But in the event Virginia finds offensive success only sporadically in the coming weeks and months, having a triumph over a ranked Big Ten squad in its figurative back pocket likely will fortify its NCAA tournament resume.
It seems clear by now that defense will be the Cavaliers’ calling card. Virginia has held its first seven opponents this season to less than 60 points, a streak that hasn’t occurred in this program since the 1948-49 season. Before Tuesday night, one could have pointed to the quality of Virginia’s opponents and dismissed such defensive stinginess.
But Michigan tallied 73 or more points in wins over No. 22 Memphis and UCLA, as well as in a close loss to No. 3 Duke. The Wolverines are far from offensively inept.
So, if nothing else, Virginia in the second half Tuesday provided a snapshot of its capabilities. Whether the Cavaliers can sustain such a balanced attack remains to be seen.
1) Malcolm Brogdon. With just less than five minutes to play and Virginia ahead by seven, Brogdon, a freshman guard, missed a three-point shot from the corner. Senior center Assane Sene grabbed the rebound and immediately was double-teamed, so he tossed the ball back to Brogdon, who had take a few steps to his left. Brodgon fired another three-pointer, and this time it fell through the net.
“Am I glad he shot that second one?” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Well, I am now. But I wasn’t sure at the time. … But being a freshman in this setting, I thought he really showed some composure.”
Brogdon shot 3 for 4 from three-point range and finished with 16 points. He also grabbed five rebounds and helped ease fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott’s burden on the boards.
2) Rebounding. It wasn’t like Michigan was shooting poorly. The Wolverines shot 44 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range. But when they missed, they weren’t getting too many second chances. That proved to be a key difference in the game between the two teams. Virginia outrebounded Michigan, 10-3, on the offensive glass; the Cavaliers owned a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points. Scott finished with a game-high 11 rebounds (three offensive). Sophomore guard Joe Harris grabbed seven rebounds, and Brodgon tallied the five.
3) Three-point shooting. Remember last season when Virginia led the ACC in three-point shooting percentage? Well, the Cavaliers — with almost entirely the same group of shooters returning — got off to a slow start from beyond the arc this year. Through six games, Virginia had shot 32.5 percent from three-point range, and the Cavaliers made 3 of 10 three-point attempts in the first half. But in the second half, something changed. Several players said they were getting the same looks as they had before; the shots just started falling. Whatever the reason, Virginia got hot and stayed that way. Harris and Brodgon combined to make 5 of 9 three-pointers after the break, and the Cavaliers shot 40 percent (6 of 15) from beyond the arc in the second half. Virginia made a season-high nine three-pointers Tuesday.
1) First-half offense. The Cavaliers shot 30.4 percent from the field before the break against Michigan. Only two Virginia players (Scott and fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski) made more than one field goal in the first half. Were it not for a defensive effort that allowed the Wolverines to attempt only 20 first-half shots, Virginia might have entered halftime facing a sizeable deficit. Instead, the Cavaliers led, 24-23, at the break, and then managed to find their offensive stride in the second half.
2) K.T. Harrell. It would appear the sophomore guard’s search for consistency continues. One game after shooting 5 for 8 from the field and scoring 14 points in 19 minutes off the bench in Virginia’s win Friday over Wisconsin-Green Bay, Harrell turned in a forgettable performance Tuesday. Against Michigan, Harrell shot 0 for 4 from the field (including 0 for 3 from three-point range) and tallied zero points in 10 minutes of action. More than that, he struggled to find other ways to affect the game. He recorded no rebounds, no assists and no steals. The kid has talent; he’s just got to figure out a way to unleash it on a consistent basis.
3) Second-half free throw shooting. Granted, we’re being really picky here, but had this been a close game down the stretch, Virginia might have paid for shooting 71.4 percent (10 of 14) from the charity stripe after halftime.
Right. We know. Really picky. All in all, it was a pretty good night for Bennett’s squad.