Virginia struggling without snipers in the lineup; anticipate dogfights down homestretch

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

Come Saturday night, Virginia will be halfway through its basketball season and plenty of questions remain.

Did we underestimate the impact of the mass exodus of experience, scoring, leadership and pure shooters from the Cavaliers after the national championship? Did we overestimate the abilities of the players who remained on the roster or entered the program in the offseason?

Early on, we were all convinced that Virginia was a Top-25 basketball team. Poll voters, both experienced media and college basketball coaches, had the Cavaliers in their Top 10, which seemed a little generous at the time.

Now, we’re wondering if projections that UVA will be a No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament is realistic. Will this be a bubble team? Will the Cavaliers have an impressive enough resume to be a bubble team? How many losses will this team have?

Standing at 11-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, and with 16 more conference games remaining, can this team go 8-8 down the stretch?

Perhaps the saving grace is that the ACC is down. Duke and Florida State appear to be a notch above the rest of the league. The Blue Devils are a free throw away from being 14-0. FSU is long and athletic and physical.

Most of the rest are in a parity pool where they can win most every night, but can also lose almost any night.

One thing is for sure, Virginia might be in a lot of dogfights between now and the end of the season.

What will be seen on Saturday afternoon with Jim Boeheim’s Orange comes to town? The Cavaliers that dominated Virginia Tech a week ago at JPJ, posting the most lopsided win over the Hokies since 1955, or the Wahoos that couldn’t beat Boston College minus its two best players in Beantown earlier this week?

I’ve made it a practice over my career to rarely rip college players, college teams, even bad college teams, as long as they are giving it all they’ve got.

That didn’t happen at BC. Tony Bennett barely recognized the product on the floor. It was a lackadaisical effort by the Cavaliers. 

“[BC] out-hustled us,” Bennett said afterward. “[BC] was the aggressor. We didn’t do the job in a lot of areas. If we’re not ready if we’re not right — and we were not right — we aren’t good enough to just show up. 

“I saw heart, passion, intensity against Virginia Tech. I did not see that [vs. BC]. We played poorly.”

As badly as UVA played, the game was still up for grabs with a minute and a half to play, knotted at 53-all. Somehow, the Cavaliers shot themselves out of it down the stretch, missing nine of their last 10 field-goal attempts.

But, ah, therein lies the rub.

Virginia can’t shoot … consistently. Yes, the Cavaliers have had their moments, and various players have had theirs, too. But not consistently.

In tight games the past few seasons, there has usually been at least one sniper on the floor, sometimes multiple ones, as in last year with Guy and Jerome and Hunter. No way anyone could shut down all three of those pure shooters.

This year? Not so much.

Out of 353 Division I basketball teams, the Cavaliers are No. 309 in shooting, connecting on 40.7 percent of their field goal attempts. From beyond the arc, they’re even worse, No. 343 (27.4 percent).

No matter how good the defense may be, if you can’t put the ball in the hole, you’re probably not going to win against decent competition.

Kody Stattmann has been a little streaky. Tomas Woldetensae will look good for a couple of games, then his shot disappears. Freshman Casey Morsell has struggled from the get-go. 

Mamadi Diakite appears to be trying to do too much and isn’t playing to his strength, which is attacking the basket. Jay Huff has been largely ineffective of late. Kihei Clark has turned the ball over too much and as good as he is at penetrating the lane, he is often trapped so deep that he can’t get off a shot.

The only player who has delivered consistently is senior Braxton Key, who has averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds over the past two games, despite playing with a cast (now a splint) on his surgically-repaired non-shooting hand.

Virginia desperately needs leadership from its seniors — Key, Diakite and Huff — which begs for another question. Can they deliver?

The Cavaliers may clobber Syracuse again on Saturday, just as they did in the season opener at the Carrier Dome, the fewest points ever scored by the Orange in the building (48-34). Virginia might lose against the Orange in a dogfight.

Better get used to it. This isn’t the same team of the past two years. If somehow this team can make it back to the NCAA Tournament, it would bridge the gap between the national championship team, and next year’s team, which has all the components of returning to elite status in the ACC and potentially making another run at the Final Four.

Until then, hold on.


  1. Clark says:

    Common!!!… You know these guys are just playing possum.
    They are working to be the first ex-Natty to start out the NCAA tournament as a #16 seed – and then defeat whatever #1 seed plays them in the first game.

  2. Bobby Green says:

    I believe when you win the national title it should automatically grant you a bid for the following year since technically how can you be defending champions if not given the chance. I’m sure unc will make the tournament with way more losses than Virginia because heaven knows they won’t leave them out

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