No. 13 Virginia has now played three road games in ACC play. Their record in those games: 0-3, with the most recent loss coming in Tallahassee Sunday night by the final score of 69-62.
Of course winning on the road is tough, especially in a league as deep as the ACC. But it’s been a familiar theme for the Cavaliers this season, and Sunday’s game turned on two important developments without just over four minutes of game time of each other.
The first play was Florida State guard Malik Beasley’s three-pointer at the end of the first half. Prior to that shot the freshman, who finished with 17 points, had yet to score a point in the game. The play served as a spark for Beasley, who’s scored in double figures in every game he’s played in this season. From that point on Beasley was able to get better looks, as he scored 14 second-half points and did not miss a shot from the field (4-for-4) or from the foul line (4-for-4) in the second stanza.
That seemed to spark Florida State as a whole, as they shot 63.2 percent from the field and avraged 1.33 points per possession. A key reason for that was the second major turning point in the game, as Anthony Gill headed to the bench with 15:47 remaining after picking up his third foul.
Virginia’s still a good defensive team by “normal” standards, but as it’s been discussed many times before they have yet to find a front court player capable of filling the role of last year’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year Darion Atkins. In 2014-15 Gill was effectively the “Robin” to Atkins’ “Batman” in the Virginia front court defensively, and that partnership was one of the reasons why they finished the season ranked tops in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.
With Atkins gone Gill’s become Batman, but no Robin has emerged for Tony Bennett. Hence the rotating of players such as Jack Salt (five starts), Mike Tobey (six starts) and Isaiah Wilkins (five starts) into the starting role, but none have managed to truly make that spot theirs from a defensive standpoint. That impacts pick and roll coverages, an area in which Atkins was elite a season ago, not only for the players in the action but those in weak side positions as well.
But that hasn’t been the only issue for Virginia, which has also made a habit of going cold offensively this season. The Cavaliers experienced two different stretches in the second half of three-plus minutes without a point, with Florida State outscoring them 17-0 during those points in the action. Virginia shot 35.7 percent from the field in the second half, and with the lack of consistency beyond Gill, London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon they can ill-afford an off night from one of their big three.
Brogdon scored ten points on 4-for-17 shooting and Perrantes needed 13 shots (making four) to score his 19 points. It’s become quite clear that Virginia will have a tougher time pulling out wins when that happens this season than they did in each of the last two seasons.
The good news for Virginia is that they’ve yet to play North Carolina, which is now three games ahead of the Cavaliers in the loss column, so there’s a direct opportunity to gain ground down the line (February 27 to be exact). But given the offensive lulls and a defense that, while good, isn’t at the level it reached in each of the last two seasons, their chances of winning a third straight ACC regular season crown are extremely slim at this point.