Virginia's potential fatal flaw on display in key win over Louisville
Virginia beat Louisville on Saturday night. That much isn't too surprising. The Cavaliers once again turned an ACC game into a rock fight where their rocks are bigger and the other team has been blindfolded. There were points when, if you left the house for a walk, you could've returned and not have missed a basket by the Cardinals in UVA's 52-47 win.
Virginia plays defense. And it plays it really well.
But … but, if you've been paying attention to Tony Bennett's team over the past two weeks, you might have picked up on something that no one is mentioning when it comes to the third-ranked Cavaliers. For as good as the 'Hoos' defense is -- and it's really, really good -- a blemish has begun to appear.
Virginia is having problems closing out games. Both offensively and defensively.
Heresy, we know. But it's an issue.
Virginia is still winning, so the problem's getting glossed over. But it's there lingering, and if this team doesn't shore it up soon it could end up biting the Cavaliers in a game where the season is on the line.
The final three minutes of games have been a problematic time for Bennett's squad the past two weeks. It was an issue on Jan. 25, when Virginia had to squeak out a win over Virginia Tech. It was an issue a week ago, when the Cavs lost their first game of the season to Duke.
It was an issue, albeit a minor one, against North Carolina in a game Virginia won handily.
And it was an issue once again on Saturday night against No. 9 Louisville.
Don't believe us? Think we're grasping at straws for a team that seems to have no weaknesses? Fair. But look at the numbers.
In the final three minutes of regulation in Virginia's last four games, the Cavaliers have made just five of their 16 field-goal attempts (31.2 percent). Their opponents have made 13 of 21 attempts (61.9 percent) from the floor.
Still not convinced? How about this: Over the last four games, Virginia has been outscored in the final three minutes 35-19.
The numbers become even more jarring when you realize that the majority of Virginia's points in that time have come from the free throw line, which is how the Cavaliers have actually been able to survive a lot of these late-game problems. Take Saturday night, for instance, when Virginia made sure that Malcolm Brogdon, who shoots almost 86 percent from the line, consistently got the ball on the in-bounds to get fouled.
He gets the ball, he goes to the line, he makes the free throws.
But that's what's been accounting for the majority of Virginia's points at the end of its previous four games. Ten of those 19 points came from the free throw line.
This could simply be an aberration or a case of a too-small sample size in the greater picture. After all, Virginia is now 21-1 and 9-1 in the ACC. It has also played three of the top 12 teams in the country in the last week. Closing out any one of those opponents, let alone all three of them, is enough to fatigue some teams.
And, of course, leading scorer Justin Anderson only played 16 minutes after suffering a left hand injury during the first half of the win over the Cardinals. After the game, it was announced Anderson has a fractured finger and will need surgery. He'll be out four to six weeks, which will likely seriously alter how Virginia's offense functions.
Entering Saturday, Anderson led the Cavs in scoring (13.9 points per game), was third in assists (2.1) and was fourth in rebounds (4.3). He was also among the team's leaders in converting free throws (80.6 percent) and three-pointers (50 percent).
His absence, though, doesn't completely explain away Virginia's end-game issues on both ends of the floor.
The numbers don't lie.
It's the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about.
And it'll hang there until Virginia comes up with a way to fix it -- or someone makes the Cavaliers pay for not figuring it out.