When any sports fanatic thinks of the ACC, the first two teams that come to mind are the North Carolina Tar Heel and the dominant Duke Blue Devils. While the Virginia Cavaliers aren’t pushovers themselves, they lack both the recent post-season accolades and intriguing roster that has made the aforementioned college basketball programs supremely successful. However, despite the Cavaliers erratic struggles throughout the 21st century, they have finally made their presence known as a defensively vigilant basketball program. Rather than scoring 80-90 points a game, the Cavaliers utilize a unique sense of patience that allows them to make wise defensive plays to hold their opponents to minimal field goal opportunities. Although the Cavaliers have yet to garner as much limelight as Syracuse, Duke and even Pittsburgh this season, their profound determination to win on any stage can’t be ignored.
Looking at the Cavaliers overall statistics, it become obvious that their biggest weakness is their inability to score consistently, especially against ranked opponents (score 66.2 PPG, 292nd in NCAA). However, the Cavaliers have been able to overcome this discrepancy by playing tight defensively while being able to score critical field goals down the stretch. On top of that, the Cavaliers have a well-built roster that consists of dynamic shooting guards and physically gifted forwards.
By far, the Cavaliers most impressive guard (if not overall player) is sophomore Malcolm Brogdon. Although his shooting percentage from the field isn’t spectacular (43.6%) his perimeter game is much improved from last season and comes in handy when the Cavaliers are in desperate need of an offensive boost (39.5% from perimeter). However, Brogdon’s secret to success extends beyond his on the court swiftness and clutch shooting abilities. As an exceptional free throw shooter (90% from the free throw line), Brogdon is the Cavaliers go to ball handler when the game is on the line. This goes a long way in keeping the Cavaliers in low scoring affairs where the difference between a well-earned victory and a devastating loss comes down to a mere point or two.
Luckily, the Cavaliers are fortunate enough to avoid tight game situations as their oppressive defense does a sensational job at closing off open lanes to the hoop. Although most of the forwards aren’t prolific shooters, they are actually fairly accurate from the field as a whole (the Cavaliers forwards average 48.5% from the field, which is better than their team average of 44.7%).
In order to fully understand the Cavaliers remarkable success, it’s essential to look at the teams overall cohesion and emotional determination rather than just the typical statistics. Although the Cavaliers have a mediocre field goal percentage as a team, they are able to counterbalance this ailment by stifling their opponents to 70 points or less and even then it’s extremely rare to see any collegiate program put up a score anywhere close to that (the only team to score more than 70 points against the Cavaliers when they have won is Southern Methodist University, they put up 73 points).
Beyond their intriguing defensive capabilities, the Cavaliers have a plethora of players who aren’t great individually, but when they are playing with a passionate vigor in an actual game together, their talents become fully realized. Although the Cavaliers don’t have a dynamic forward like Jabari Parker, or a well-rounded guard like Tyler Ennis, this team has made it clear that despite their underwhelming statistical contributions that they can still persevere against even the most intimidating opponents. Unlike most team who lack a degree of offensive proficiency, the Cavaliers know their strengths and weaknesses and use this disciplined awareness to expose the shortcomings of other opponents. Although it may not always be pretty, the Cavaliers only concern is winning a game by any means necessary regardless of what the final score is or what the cynics have to say about their unconventional style of play.
In the end, the Cavaliers have proven that despite their offensive miscues, they can still rally as team to take down opponents who have a clear advantage in terms of what they do on paper. Although it’s hard to declare the Cavaliers as the unconditional ACC Champions, their perseverance and scrappy defensive abilities can’t be underestimated. If the Cavaliers can work on their blatant shortcomings while continuing to play top-notch defensive basketball, they have a decent shot at shocking their conference in the ACC Tournament.