With guard Keifer Sykes and big man Alec Brown leading the way, Brian Wardle’s Green Bay Phoenix are expected to contend for the Horizon League title this season. That fact meant that Tony Bennett’s return to his alma mater wasn’t going to be an easy one, with his Virginia Cavaliers looking to rebound from their worst offensive performance of the season in their loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.
Virginia scored a much better clip than they did against the Badgers, but poor three-point shooting and 14 turnovers resulted in a 75-72 defeat. Sykes and Greg Mays led the way for the Phoenix, finishing with 21 and 24 points respectively. And as a team Green Bay shot 51% from the field and 50% from the field, finding quality looks against the Cavaliers’ pack line D for much of the contest.
Now that Virginia’s lost two straight games, should there be serious concerns with the start of ACC play less than a month away? Let’s not go that far just yet.
After not even shooting 25% against Wisconsin the Cavaliers made half of their field goal attempts against Green Bay, shooting 62.1% inside of the arc. But in the offensive system that Virginia runs it’s important that they be able to knock down three-pointers as well, and that didn’t happen as they shot 5-for-17 from deep. Add in 14 turnovers and Virginia found itself in trouble before making good use of the offensive glass and the painted area to eventually tie a game they trailed by as much as 11 at three different stages of the second half.
The biggest question to be asked moving forward focuses on senior guard Joe Harris: is he getting enough shots? Harris shot 5-for-9 (12 points) against Green Bay, and while that’s an improvement when compared to how he shot against Wisconsin (1-for-10) the Cavaliers will need him to get back to the level at which he scored last season. Harris’ scoring average (11.2 ppg) is down five points from last season (16.3), a year in which he earned first team All-ACC honors and entered 2013-14 as one of the frontrunners for ACC Player of the Year.
Last season Harris failed to score in double figures just four times, and he’s already matched that number in 2013-14. Virginia is 3-1 in such games and has multiple scoring options, and their five players in double figures against Green Bay is an indication of that. But if Virginia’s to hang with Duke, Syracuse and whoever else proves to be capable of making a run at the ACC title, they’re going to need Joe Harris to “turn back the clock.”