This team is legit
It’s probably the most obvious takeaway I’ve ever written, but if you can’t tell from watching the game, this UVA team is officially legit. I’m not talking a good Top 25, I’m not talking a good ACC top three, not even a good Sweet Sixteen.
I’m talking national hero good.
Listen, I might be getting a little ahead of myself now. But it’s hard not to. Baylor is no exaggeration ranked fifth in the country. This is a serious national contender with a mix of seasoned and experienced players who won matches in March (Adam Flagler, for example) and very good young talent (Keyonte George) that has proven to be the winning formula for many championship teams in the past. Take a look at how good Coach Scott Drew is, the fact that Baylor has outscored UVA and committed fewer turnovers than the Hoos, and that Baylor is exactly the kind of team that beats UVA coach Tony Bennett, and this win looks even better.
What I mean by Baylor being the perfect opponent to trouble UVA is that not only do they have the best players in the backcourt, but they have shot makers who can punish the Packline defense. In addition, the Bears defense, which denies opponents midfield, has swapped most of the off-the-ball screens UVA has used, and pressure on the ball handler is similar to the kinds of defenses that have given Bennett’s teams so many problems in my past.
But no, UVA has tamed the Bears with their own shot put, a versatile offense that can hit you in a variety of ways, and a defense that may not be the absolute top in the country, but is still good enough to shut down one of the toughest players. An insult to a meaningful extension and allowing the team to make an important run.
Virginia basketball has returned to being a national competition. There, I said it. Prove me right monsters.
Virginia trails Baylor
There was a point in time when I felt nothing could go wrong for the ‘Hoos’ in this game. Down by 3 to Baylor in the first half, UVA made it 30-5 to start the second half to move ahead by 22 points with 10:48 left in the game. At the time it looked as if Hoos was about to run away with it.
And although the ‘Hoos’ eventually pulled off a seven-point win, there were some really trying times for Wahoo fans in the final 10 minutes of regulation. But, honestly, it just goes to show (more) how good Tony Bennett’s winning team is.
While a 13-2 Bears lead after UVA took a 22-point lead meant the game was back in contention as Keyonte George and Adam Flagler pitched shot after shot, the Baylor Press gave every Virginia fan a very hated memory. To an emphatic loss at Syracuse over six years ago, Huss kept Baylor at bay as he was generally effective at beating the press and making 22 of 26 free throws in the second half.
This is evidence of a very good team and underscores how no slouch Baylor is. Sure, it would have been fun to run away to a 30-point win, but this shows the strength of Virginia and how important the veteran backcourt of Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman and Armaan Franklin are to this team.
Armand Franklin is very good
Speaking of, Armaan Franklin should be UVA’s MVP through three games this season. In three contests, he averaged 18.3 points per game while shooting 52.9% from outside the arc and 55.6% from the field. He also had three steals against Baylor scoring 26 points to lead UVA’s offense, finishing 7-12 from the field, 3-6 from deep, and 9-10 from the free throw line.
There are a lot of other guys that have been playing absolute basketball for this team and I’ll get to some of them in a second, but Franklin being that type of player is just huge for this offense and this backcourt. Virginia struggled with Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark in the backcourt for two seasons because each was much better as a creator than an offensive finisher and they didn’t have the right other guards around them to produce on the perimeter as they needed.
While Franklin wasn’t that guy last season, he definitely is this year. And assuming he maintains the impressive consistency he’s had in his last 12 games (28-58 from depth at 48.3%) suggests this version of Franklin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
UVA has found a front court pairing that really works
I really don’t mean this as a mockery of Jaden Gardner. He’s still a good player and he’s definitely going to have his moment with this team as the season progresses, I don’t doubt that at all.
But the combination of Ben Vander Blass and Kaden Shedrick in the front field along with UVA’s three starting guards proves to be unique. In 31 minutes, Shedrick scored 17 points against Baylor (6-6 from the field, 5-7 from the line) while also having a pair of steals and a pair of blocks. He also had two really impressive mid-range designs altering the account of opposing defences. Not in the stat sheet, he made life difficult for the Baylor guards all night as a hedge and a nuisance in front of the ball screens.
Meanwhile, Vander Blas scored 14 points (4-5 from the field, 2-3 from deep, and 4-6 from the line) as his shooting ability changed the way Hoess offense was played. In addition, he was practically flawless defensively as concerns raised about his mobility were put to rest in the demanding Wahoo defense and his general safety as a defender.
This win is bigger than basketball
After a week out of hell for the UVA and Charlottesville communities, this win means the absolute world to everyone involved. There is no filling in the huge hole left by the tragic losses of Lavelle Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler. You can’t succeed on the field or on the field or anything, for that matter.
But, sometimes, sports can be an effective distraction, or even a therapeutic way to help deal with tragedy. I know writing this story was for me. I know this win is for the UVA fan base, for the student body, for Charlottesville, and for the entire UVA gaming community.
“We know the pain and grief that many go through…you [the team] I honored the right things… I want the coaching staff and these players to know how much we love them and with them. – TB coach pic.twitter.com/jrDwHRmXse
Virginia men’s basketball (UVAMensHoops) November 19, 2022
However, I would like to once again draw your attention to our verified GoFundMe fundraisers for the families of those we tragically lost on Sunday. If you are at all able, I strongly encourage you to consider making a donation to help these families in their most difficult time. We at Streaking the Lawn greatly appreciate that.