It was sort of inevitable, even if watching it play out was sort of shocking.
Virginia’s defense has been so good, even by its lofty standards, that the Cavaliers navigated the first seven games of their schedule without a loss, despite the fact that 65 points against James Madison was their highwater mark of offense.
So unless you thought Tony Bennett’s team was going to hold opponents to the 30s and 40s every night – which, I suppose, given the track record that’s not an entirely crazy notion – the Cavaliers, with an offense that ranks somewhere below clunky and above disastrous, were bound to have a night where the offense simply didn’t show up and the defense wasn’t able to carry the load.
It happened Wednesday.
Purdue absolutely blasted No. 5 Virginia, 69-40, beating the Cavaliers’ defense while letting their offense self-destruct at Mackey Arena.
It was the type of game, however, that Virginia had to know was possible given how much its offense has failed to produce despite the undefeated record.
Bennett’s teams have never been known for their offense, but that has largely been due to pace. His teams have finished in the top-50 in adjusted offense every year since 2014 with two top-10 finishes, including last year’s national champion ranking No. 2. They’ve just never finished ranked higher than 316th in tempo, and that came in Bennett’s first season in Charlottesville.
This year’s team is both slow and bad offensively.
The Cavs entered Wednesday ranked 291st in effective field goal percentage, 338th in 3-point shooting, 168th in turnover percentage and 273rd in assisted field goals. And yeah, they’re still super slow, ranking at the bottom of the country in tempo.
So a night in which Virginia didn’t break into double digits until after 16 minutes isn’t exactly surprising. It is ugly, though, when tabulated all up, the Cavaliers shot 37.2 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from 3-point range while committing 16 turnovers. Yeah, it was a bad night, but not one that was miles away from what’s been standard for Virginia this year. Nights like this happen when your baseline is as low as Virginia’s has been.
Kihei Clark was 1 of 6 from the floor with three turnovers. Mamadi Diakite was 4 of 10 with four turnovers. When those two can’t produce, Virginia’s offense isn’t likely to either, especially with Braxton Key (wrist) sidelined.
Purdue got to the defense, especially at the 3-point line where they made 13 of 25, but there’s little doubt the Cavaliers are going to have a top-ranked defense. The task for Bennett will be to get the offense to simply serviceable.
That may be a rather significant challenge.
Let’s also not lose sight, though, of what a validating evening this was for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers. Purdue entered the night with three losses and a neutral-floor win again VCU as the best win on its resume, but were still beloved by the computers with a No. 13 KenPom ranking.
To totally dominate Virginia – whatever its offensive shortcomings – on both ends of the floor is a nice piece of evidence that this group is going to be pretty good.
The Boilermakers got 20 points from Sasha Stefanovic, 16 from Jahaad Proctor and 11 from Matt Haarms. They get credit for making Virginia’s offense as ineffective as it was, especially early.
If Purdue is as good as it was against Virginia and the computers believe, the Big Ten is going to be a monster. We already know about Michigan State, Maryland and Ohio State, but with Michigan and Purdue really emerging in the last week – not to mention undefeated Indiana, 8-1 Penn State and an interesting 6-2 Iowa team – the league is staking early claim to being the best in the country.