Buchanan developing at five spot; UVA climbs to No. 32 in NET

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

There have been lots of famous duos throughout our pop culture’s history: Batman and Robin, Bert and Ernie, Bonnie and Clyde, Tom and Jerry, among others.

If you’re a Virginia basketball fan, you’ve probably observed a new tag team of sorts that has helped the Cavaliers’ resurgence in ACC play: Jordan Minor and Blake Buchanan.

Minor has played a major role in bringing physicality to the team, while understudy Buchanan has provided substantial support down in the paint. The two post players’ combined minutes essentially give Tony Bennett the production he needs from the five spot, an aspect of play that had been missing earlier when UVA was trying to find itself.

In Virginia’s win at Clemson last Saturday, Minor had 9 points and 9 rebounds. In the Cavaliers’ annihilation of visiting Miami on Monday night, Buchanan stepped up with 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Both played outstanding defense.

That helped UVA make a dramatic leap in the NET rankings after beating Miami, 60-38 (the Hurricanes averaged 82 points per game coming into the game). Starting the week at No. 42 in the NET, the Cavaliers climbed to No. 32 after beating Miami.

Buchanan, the 6-foot-11, 225-pound freshman big man from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said after the game that Virginia’s resurgence started in practice and started with defense after Tony Bennett told the team what was at stake.

“Coach told us we were playing for a [NCAA Tournament] bid and that we need to take a stand,” Buchanan said. “Do what we do, and that starts on the defensive end. I think that’s really what has helped us out is our defense and keeping teams low and just playing Virginia basketball … we’re getting back to it.”

Miami, which was held to less than half its average scoring per game, put up its fewest points ever since its basketball program was reinstituted in 1985. Virginia’s defense completely shut down the Hurricanes’ guards as Miami made only 2 of 20 attempts from the 3-point arc.

Meanwhile, Buchanan and Minor were helping keep Miami out of the paint, where UVA outscored the Canes, 32-18.

Buchanan, known back in Idaho as the “Big Potato,” has caught his second wind. Early in the season, when the freshman got all five of his starts, he was playing well against mostly nonconference opponents.

As the season progressed, he hit the proverbial “freshman wall,” with his production and playing time reduced, particularly with Minor’s emergence as an experienced fifth-year starter who could bring much-needed physicality and screen-setting abilities to the lineup.

Buchanan, as talented as he is, doesn’t have the necessary strength at this stage of his career to handle the bigger post players in the league.

He was getting pushed off the block and out of position, something opponents can’t do to a physically more stout Minor. Buchanan will evolve into that player with more time working with UVA strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis. For now, he’s learning more about leverage and how to handle all the bumping and shoving.

All the while, he and Minor have provided lots of support and encouragement for each other’s struggles.

“We’ve been super close,” Buchanan said. “I kind of looked up to him in the summertime. He’s a fifth-year, he’s got experience, so I was just kind of watching what he does, how he leads.

“At the start of the season, when I was playing, Jordan was still supporting me, and then when he started playing, I’ve got to support him. I mean he’s been working his butt off and I’m proud of him the way he’s come back and played. The way we practice, the way we interact, it helps a lot.”

Of course, all this improvement for both players and the entire Virginia team starts with defense, something Buchanan was quick to point out when talking about Virginia’s seven-game winning streak and tournament-resume building.

“I think it really started in practice,” Buchanan said of the turnaround. “Just the way we started attacking practice more, especially on the defensive end. Pre-practice, getting up these shots that we take in games, and then putting in more work outside of practice. But, yeah, it kind of just started in practice and on defense.”

Buchanan said his personal development has come from his return for extra work in the gym at night and doing the kinds of things that helped him get more playing time early on.

“I think it’s common for a freshman to have ups and downs,” Buchanan said. “People told me, that’s just part of it, just to fight through it, that this sort of thing happens, that it’s not uncommon. Just got to keep my head up and keeping pushing through it.”

The dedication has earned him more time, and the duo have given Virginia a strong presence in the post. Buchanan is averaging 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He has blocked 16 shots and has 11 steals, but his playing time has increased of late.

He clocked 22 minutes against Miami, 11 against Clemson, 9 vs. Notre Dame, 13 against Louisville, 14 against NC State and 11 vs. Virginia Tech. Buchanan actually had more playing time than Minor in the Miami game.

Buchanan comes from an athletic family. His dad, Buck, played football at the University of Idaho and mom, Debbie, played volleyball at Southern Cal.

As he continues to develop, he and Minor could evolve into quite a duo at the five spot for the Cavaliers, and that could be huge.