The first problems with the Virginia offense appeared while playing at Virginia Tech on Feb. 12, when the Cavaliers were tied at 68 with the Hokies in overtime.
London Perrantes drove the lane, kissed his shot off the glass -- and, incredibly, the ball got stuck on the back iron.
It was a sign. Tony Bennett’s team went on to lose that game in double overtime, marking the beginning of what has now become a full-fledged losing streak.
With losses on the road to Virginia Tech and North Carolina and defeats at home to Duke and, now, Miami -- 54-48 in overtime on Monday night -- Virginia’s once promising season is hanging in the balance. This defense is still incredible -- the Hurricanes won by scoring 54 points in a 59-possession game that lasted 45 minutes -- but the Cavaliers have quite simply lost their ability to put the ball in the basket.
Over the course of these four losses, the Hoos have connected on just 41 percent of their 2s and 24 percent of their 3s. Perrantes is mired in a personal four-game 16 of 58 shooting slump from the floor. Too often during this losing streak, Virginia has been reduced to a jump-shooting team, period. Well, the jumpers are not falling.
The truly scary thing if you’re a UVa fan is that this shooting drought has transcended all types of opposing defenses. Sure, the Tar Heels are pretty fair on that side of the ball, and maybe the late-season Blue Devils are cobbling together a decent defense.
But Virginia Tech? The ACC has fairly rained made shots down on Buzz Williams’ team all season long from both sides of the arc. Then, against their in-state rivals, the Hokies suddenly become, yes, Virginia.
In the past four games, the Cavaliers have scored just 0.86 points per possession. For comparison’s sake, Georgia Tech has had by far the ACC’s weakest offense this season, and in conference play, the Yellow Jackets have scored 0.95 points per trip. Bennett’s offense has descended to uncharted -- and wholly unanticipated -- territory.
Even stranger is the fact that this total collapse on offense has been both visually arresting and orderly. It’s been a controlled collapse. UVa’s turnover rate has never been more outstanding (13 percent over the past four games), but the net result of all these trips has been ... 0.86 points each time. The Hoos just cannot make a shot.
Maybe it will be said this was Virginia's destiny all along -- and that the November dismissal of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols doomed this team to mediocrity or worse on offense. That sounds plausible enough in February, but the funny thing is, this no-Nichols offense was exemplary throughout January.
Before the onset of this current losing streak, UVa was scoring 1.10 points per trip against the ACC. Back then, Bennett had (this will sound far-fetched now) the most accurate offense in league play, one that could make shots from deep or in close.
Those days are long gone. No, the Hoos don’t have a “true” post scorer, but in 2017, that’s a widely shared affliction. Villanova might well be the NCAA tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, and if you can find a true post scorer in a Wildcats uniform, that means an outsider raided the players' lounge.
Saying this team lacks a post scorer is simply over-defining the issue in Charlottesville, Virginia. We value those scorers because they create and convert opportunities at the rim. Guys such as Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox or Villanova’s Jalen Brunson can do that too. The Cavaliers are still looking for someone who will do it for them.
Meantime, the Cavaliers will continue to play amazing defense and patiently await a regression to the mean on their 3-point luck. This team isn’t going to shoot 24 percent from beyond the arc forever. When those shots do fall, UVa will again pose a very large challenge to its ACC opponents.
The key word there is “when.” Until that day comes, Virginia’s offense is broken -- officially, unmistakably and dramatically so.