The UVA men’s basketball program ranks third in the nation in turnovers per game, averaging only 10 per contest through 23 games. The last two games, however, the Cavaliers have been trending in the wrong direction in this category.
In a 66-62 loss at Syracuse last Saturday, Virginia had 15 turnovers that resulted in 11 points for the Orange. Five of those turnovers came on the Wahoos’ first 15 possessions of the second half. Those five giveaways, along with cold shooting from the visitors and hot shooting by the home team, helped Syracuse turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a 4-point lead at the midway point of the second half.
“I just think we got a little hesitant on offense,” freshman guard Kyle Guy said in this Washington Post article following the Syracuse loss. “We weren’t being as aggressive as we were in the first [half]. Turnovers have been … any time we lose, that’s always the case.”
Turnovers plagued the Hoos (18-5, 8-3) in home losses to West Virginia (14 turnovers) and Florida State (13 turnovers) earlier in the season. Eighteen of West Virginia’s 66 points came off turnovers. UVA surrendered 10 and 13 points off turnovers in losses at Pitt and Villanova as well.
Virginia overcame 14 miscues to secure a 71-55 win over Louisville on Monday night. While the Cavaliers played well in many areas in the second half against the Cardinals, they still had seven turnovers. This was the fourth straight half in which UVA has committed at least seven turnovers.
Despite the dismissal of Austin Nichols, who would have given Coach Tony Bennett a proven post scorer and potential All-American, the offense has performed well. Virginia is currently ranked 15th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency while making field goals at a 49.5% clip, its best field goal percentage since the program’s rise to national prominence in 2013/2014.
Taking care of the basketball is essential for any team, but especially for UVA, which ranks second-to-last in the nation in possessions per game. No matter how efficient the offense is, turning the ball over on roughly a quarter of your possessions is not a recipe for success. And, as mentioned, it also can result in easy points for the opposition.
“I don’t have the right answer for how to respond to get guys to turn it over less,” Bennett said in the Louisville postgame press conference on February 6. “It’s just something that we’re dealing with. Those live ball turnovers have been an Achilles heel for us in some games.”
A challenging ACC regular season stretch lies ahead. Seven regular season conference games remain before postseason play begins. Virginia needs to tighten up its ball security moving forward to accomplish the postseason success the team hopes for.
Looking at previous years, UVA averaged 10 turnovers per game in 2013/2014, 9.3 per game in 2014/2015, and 9.3 per game last season. In 2013/2014, when Virginia made its great run and captured ACC regular season and postseason championships, the Cavaliers averaged 8.33 turnovers per contest in conference play.
We knew the week of January 23-29, which included away contests versus Notre Dame and Villanova, was a challenging week for the Hoos. What we didn’t know is who would step up as UVA almost pulled off a clean sweep that week.
Freshman point guard Ty Jerome scored a then career high 8 points as Virginia took down Notre Dame in South Bend, 71-54, on January 24. He followed that up with a 15-point performance in a last second loss at Villanova, playing a career-high 24 minutes against the defending National Champions.
Jerome’s breakout week and subsequent quality play have resulted in a significant spot in the rotation, as he is averaging around 18 minutes per game against Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Louisville. In the 18 games prior to Notre Dame, the 6’5″ freshman was averaging 9.2 minutes per game.
“I think it’s a matter of just staying ready, being in the moment, being confident and smart and let everything else take care of itself,” Jerome said when asked about his recent performances.
I had to ask Jerome about his game-tying bucket in the final minute against Villanova. The play, which you can see at the 1:13 mark on the video below, was all the more impressive considering the stage.
“So we ran a play to try and get Devon a 3,” Jerome recalled. “They switched it, defended it well. I looked up. The floor was spaced. They didn’t want to give up a 3. Everyone was shutting out, so I knew I had to make a play. I got to the paint and made a runner.”
Diakite Bounces Back
Redshirt freshman post Mamadi Diakite may be emerging at the right time.
Diakite averaged only 4.5 minutes per game during a 6-game stretch that began in January and lasted through the Virginia Tech game on February 1. The 6’9” power forward/center did not play at all at Villanova and saw only two minutes of action versus Tech.
Diakite has played 16 minutes in each of Virginia’s last two games, though, and has performed well. He scored 8 points on 4-4 shooting, pulled down 4 rebounds, and had a block and a turnover in the loss to Syracuse. Against Louisville, Diakite scored 6 points (3-3 shooting), blocked 2 shots, and corralled a rebound.
With sophomore Jarred Reuter struggling lately and teams trying to attack the basket against UVA, Diakite could continue to see an increased role. Physically and athletically, his talents are obvious. Mentally, Diakite is still learning and you can see that on occasion. Plays like the one below, however, give Cavalier fans reason for excitement for the present and the future.