By Mychal Hunter
When Virginia won its first ACC regular season title in 2013-14, it was seen as possibly a fluke, an anomaly that was unsustainable. A team in the ACC that played more like a B10 program, winning by simply slowing games down, being efficient on offense and playing true team defense. That is not the ACC way, never has been. The contrast in styles between Virginia and everyone else in the conference was drastic and was quickly dismissed as boring and terrible basketball. Three and a half ACC seasons and a 77% winning percentage later we have all learned that this defensive philosophy is something that can be effective, sustainable and even non-detrimental to recruiting, which was also a stigma associated with that particular style of play. I went over some recruiting rankings in one of the podcasts a couple weeks ago if you want to give it a listen.
One thing that is often overlooked is that while Virginia does not put up a ton of points, they do put them up efficiently. In their 30-7 season the Cavaliers finished 27th in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (KenPom), they followed that up with an even better number in 2014-15, finishing 21st. In 2015-16, a year in which they slacked off and only finished 2nd in the league, they ranked in the top 10 in both offensive (8th) and defensive (7th) efficiency rating, only Villanova was more impressive, finishing 3rd in offense and 5th in defense. Last season, in what could be considered a down year for the program given their recent success (11-7 in ACC, 5th place) they were still able to finish in the top 50 in offensive efficiency, while ranking 2nd in defensive efficiency. This year is no different, the Cavaliers are the #1 ranked team in the country on defense according to KenPom and are once again one of the top teams in offensive efficiency coming in at #36 as of this morning.
What is the point of all this rambling? The point is you can run a good offense and you can get your players open looks but they still have to be talented enough to knock those looks down. The fact that is often overlooked by most casual college basketball fans is that Virginia typically has really good talent on offense.
Going back to that first ACC regular season title winning team and looking at the roster they had pros all over the place. Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris and Justin Anderson are all currently in the league and London Perrantes is a currently on a 2 way contract with the Cavaliers. Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell are all making their living as a professional ball players around the world.
This year you have Kyle Guy and Devon Hall as the primary offensive forces on an 18-1 (7-0) team ranked 2nd in the country and both will almost assuredly make their livings playing basketball barring any sort of injury or other personal aspirations.
Now it looks as if there is another player who is coming on earlier than anticipated in redshirt freshman forward DeAndre Hunter. The 6’7 wing has come alive during ACC play after being wildly inconsistent through the out of conference schedule which resulted in a heavy fluctuation in his minutes played early on. Since the Cavaliers ACC opener against Boston College, a contest in which Hunter only saw six minutes of floor time, he has only put up single digits once (2 points against NC State) and averaged 12.3 points 5 rebounds and a steal per game. In 3 of the Cavaliers last 4 games he has arguably been the best player on the floor for Virginia. He killed Syracuse and Georgia Tech’s zone defenses almost single handily, seemingly always making the correct decision from that foul line soft spot and Sunday night against Wake Forest he was again the Wahoo’s best player scoring in a variety of ways from all over the court.
Somewhat of a surprise is Hunter’s ability to score on the low block. He has emerged as their most viable low post threat with his body control, agility and ability to finish with both hands. Unlike some other highly praised freshman, DeAndre is also doing his damage the Virginia way, efficiently. In the Cavaliers seven ACC contest he is shooting 62% on 2pt FGA and 42% from deep with an effective field goal percentage of 61.8% and a true field goal percentage of 62.1%.
I can throw numbers out all day but to really appreciate this kid’s game you have to watch him play and this weekend against all those highly touted Duke freshman is a great opportunity. Duke has a bunch of pros on their team but it looks like Virginia has a few as well and one of them has yet to peak.