5 Things I Learned Against American

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Dave Leitao’s team has refocused on defense – will it pay off this week?

Alarm bells sounded throughout Virginia’s fan base after the Cavaliers dropped two of three games in the San Juan Shootout. While last Thursday’s 90-71 home victory over American University did not erase the damage done by the debacle in Puerto Rico, it did provide some reason to step back from the edge and take a deep breathe of fresh air.

No, this year’s team likely does not have Final Four potential (cough, Jimmy Dykes, cough) but it also is not a talentless bunch of scrubs without any possibility of improving upon last year’s 15-15 record and NIT one-and-done.

So before the Cavaliers host Gonzaga, let’s take a look at the 5 Things I Learned Against American.

Commitment To Defense. It was clear on Thursday evening, especially during the first half, that defense has become the main priority for this squad. The Cavaliers stole a page from Steve Wojciechowski and slapped the floor on numerous occasions to signify their commitment to defense.

Only time will tell if this newfound commitment is ephemeral or something more enduring.

“[Defense] starts with intensity,” said Virginia coach Dave Leitao. “When one guy switches and the other guy doesn’t or when two guys guard a guy without the ball, those are fundamental errors that should get corrected Day One and we were making them very consistently for three games.”

While the Cavaliers limited American to 19 first half points, the 51 points surrendered to the Eagles in the second half were somewhat worrisome.

“Our focus was on defense,” said shooting guard J.R. Reynolds. “Coach told us that we need to step up our defense and that’s what we did tonight for the first 20 minutes and then we kind of relaxed, but it was a good stepping stone for us.”

Virginia will need complete game efforts if it hopes to do any damage in ACC play. Corny floor-slapping will look pretty silly if the Cavaliers are unable to get results on the court.