CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With 86% of the team’s 3-point shooting production gone from a season ago, Virginia guards Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman went to work on their jumpers this offseason.
“It’s improved,” head coach Tony Bennett said of Clark’s jump shot. “Is he Kyle Guy right now? No, but with his quickness he’s added, I think he gets it off quicker, he’s sounder with his form and hopefully it’ll show in games.”
Clark, a senior guard, made 20 shots from beyond the 3-point line last season, converting at a 32.3% clip. Beekman made nine shots from 3-point range, only shooting 24.3% from deep.
“That was a struggle for me last year,” Beekman said.
The sophomore says he worked on his shot every day this offseason. He studied the mechanics of his jumper, hoping to perfect his motion. He feels better about that aspect of his game after an offseason of work.
“It’s a confidence boost when you put the work in and you see it finally paying off,” Beekman said.
With the hard work also comes increased confidence.
At times last year, Beekman passed up open 3-point shots in favor of driving toward the basket or passing to a teammate. While he’s not expected to be a prolific shooter, he wants to take, and make, open opportunities. The threat of an outside shot should keep defenses from playing off him when he’s on the perimeter.
“I think he’s improving,” Bennett said. “I don’t think that’s his M.O. right now.”
Beekman and Clark combined to make as many 3-point shots (29) last year as Jay Huff, the team’s center. The duo’s 3-point prowess wasn’t anywhere near that of Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III. The two wing players knocked down 115 3-point shots, making 42.4% of their attempts.
With guard Tomas Woldetensae graduated, the program is without its top four 3-point shooters from last season.
Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin gives the team a needed perimeter shooting boost — the guard made 42.4% of his 3-pointers last season — but UVa’s team will likely take on a different offensive identity this year.
“We’ll have to score in different ways,” Bennett said. “It won’t be a team that’s gonna spray out 30, 40 3s.”
UVa also returns sophomore guard Carson McCorkle, who was a 3-point weapon in high school. He barely played for UVa last season, but could add an outside shooting presence alongside Franklin.
Bennett’s team averaged 23 shot attempts from 3-point range last season. The Cavaliers, who played at the slowest tempo of any team in the country last year, leaned heavily on the 3-point shot. Virginia found 37.3% of its scoring from 3-point range, often working the shot clock down to find an open perimeter shot.
Free throws were seldom utilized by the Wahoos, who only recorded 13.8% of their total points at the charity stripe. They had eight games with fewer than 10 free-throw attempts, taking the fewest number of free throws of any ACC team.
Getting to the free-throw line and scoring in the paint could become more of a focal point this season.
East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner, a 6-foot-7 forward, scored 1,462 points in three seasons with the Pirates. Only 27 of those points (1.8%) came from 3-point shots. He’s expected to succeed closer to the basket compared to players like Hauser and Murphy III who relied on smooth jump shots to fill up the stat sheet.
Beekman and Clark are both gifted slashers, creating offensive opportunities off the dribble. While not nearly the same caliber shooters as a former star like Kyle Guy, they’re more adept at beating opponents with ball handling.
Freshman guard Taine Murray is a skilled player from New Zealand, and Croatian freshman forward Igor Milicic Jr. also possesses an offensive game with upside.
A handful of unproven underclassmen coupled with the level of development from returners make UVa’s offense a bit of question mark.
Can forward Kadin Shedrick take a step forward in a larger role? Will Francisco Caffaro become a low-post scoring threat? Will the team have enough 3-point shooting to keep defenses honest? Who will the Cavaliers go to when needing a basket in the waning moments of a close game?
“That’ll be a challenge this year to figure out, alright, what’s our strength?” Bennett said. “How do we score differently if you don’t have the firepower coming back? But you’re always surprised. We’ve got some good players, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find ways, but it’ll look different for sure.”
Defense is UVa’s calling card. The famous Pack Line defensive system is one of the nation’s best, but the Cavaliers know they’ll still need a capable offense to contend for an ACC title.
“It’s funny, our national championship year we were No. 2 in the country efficiency,” Bennett said. “You need both.”