By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — For the third time in five seasons, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team will head into its 10th game with an overall record of 8-1. UVA, which is 4-1 against Power Five opponents (and 1-0 in in the ACC), is not ranked in The Associated Press’ Top 25, but that may well change Monday.

Final exams start this week at the University, and the Cavaliers don’t play again until Dec. 16, when Northeastern visits John Paul Jones Arena for a 6 p.m. game. More will be revealed in the coming weeks, but we’ve learned a lot already about head coach Tony Bennett’s 15th team at Virginia. To wit:

* Isaac McKneely is an elite outside shooter. As a freshman in 2022-23, the 6-foot-4 guard shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc on about four attempts per game. McKneely is at a mind-boggling 58.1 percent this season on 5.4 attempts per game.

Against Syracuse last weekend, McKneely hit six treys and scored 22 points, both career highs, and he matched those numbers Tuesday night in UVA’s 77-47 win over North Carolina Central at JPJ.

In the first three minutes and eight seconds against NCCU, McKneely hit his first four shots—all catch-and-shoot 3-pointers—to whip his teammates on the bench and the fans in the stands into a frenzy.

“McKneely, he’s an alien,” Virginia freshman Elijah Gertrude said. “He’s not from here. I don’t know where he’s from … It’s crazy to witness that first hand.”

The Eagles (4-6) were missing several of their best players, but that was no excuse, head coach LeVelle Moton said, for his team’s lapses against No. 11.

“Everyone knows in America that McKneely can shoot the basketball,” Moton said, “and he has four 3s, I believe, without dribbling the basketball. So that’s on us. He’s an incredible player, but he shot the ball well enough [before Tuesday night] for everyone in America to know, ‘OK, run him off the line or be there on the catch.’ ”


* Reece Beekman and Ryan Dunn wreak havoc on defense. Opponents are shooting only 34.8 percent from the floor against Virginia’s Pack Line defense, in part because of the prowess of Beekman, a 6-foot-3 senior, and Dunn, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, at that end of the court.

Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, had four steals Tuesday night and leads the Cavaliers with 25 this season. Dunn has 23 steals and a team-high 23 blocked shots.

“We have the two best defenders in the nation,” Virginia swingman Leon Bond III said. “I’m gonna say that straight up. Reece and RD are the two best defenders, in my opinion. So [with those two] getting steals and getting these blocks, it changes our game offensively, because now we’re getting quick buckets in transition … If you have Reece heating up on the ball and then RD is in the gap, you might as well pass the rock to somebody else.”

N.C. Central runs the Pack Line, too, and Moton knows how players such as Beekman and Dunn can elevate the defense designed decades ago by Bennett’s father, Dick.

“Whenever you can get more length and athleticism to that, it makes it even more dangerous, because now it’s difficult to get to the rim,” Moton said. “Then it’s difficult to shoot over [their] outstretched arms, and they’ve got a lot of length and athleticism.”

Isaac McKneely

* The Cavaliers share the ball. Virginia is shooting 46.5 percent from the floor this season. Of the Hoos’ 221 field goals, 144 have been assisted. That’s 65.1 percent. Five players have at least 10 assists apiece: Beekman (52), sophomore Andrew Rohde (28), McKneely (13), graduate student Jake Groves (11) and Dunn (10).

The 6-foot-6 Rohde, a transfer from St. Thomas (Minn.), had six assists Tuesday night, his most as a Cavalier.

“Our guys understand,” Bennett said. “They play for each other. No one’s trying to get their own.”

* Rebounding figures to be a challenge in ACC play. The Hoos fared well on the boards against Syracuse and NCCU, but for the season they have 298 rebounds, to 320 for their opponents. Of Virginia’s rotation players, only the 6-foot-9 Groves, a transfer from Oklahoma, and 6-foot-11 freshman Blake Buchanan are taller than 6-foot-8, and Groves is a stretch-4 who rarely operates around the basket.

Dunn averages a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 Bond, who’s averaging about 16 minutes per game off the bench, is next at 4.2. For the past three games, Bennett has started Groves (2.4 rpg) and Dunn in the frontcourt, with Buchanan coming off the bench.

* Elijah Gertrude has bolstered the backcourt. As a senior at Hudson Catholic Regional High in New Jersey, the 6-foot-4 guard suffered a serious knee injury in November 2022 and he came into this season expecting to redshirt. Those plans changed when guard Dante Harris severely sprained an ankle, and Gertrude made his college debut Nov. 29 against Texas A&M at JPJ.

“I was ecstatic about [playing],” Gertrude said Tuesday night.

No. 12 has looked more comfortable every time out, and he scored 13 points against N.C. Central. Like Dunn, Beekman and Bond, Gertrude is an explosive athlete who’s capable of highlight-reel dunks, and he’s quickly become a fan favorite at JPJ.

“He’s another dude I think is very special,” Bond said, “and I think he’s got the potential to do a lot of good things. So he’s been hooping.”

Gertrude is an inconsistent outside shooter—he’s 1 for 7 from beyond the arc this season—but “he can go get is his own shot [and also] touch the paint and find some other people,” Bennett said. “So these last couple games were terrific for him, to get these minutes.”

* Beekman has established himself as an All-America candidate. At the 11th hour last spring, Beekman withdrew from consideration for the NBA draft, and for that the Hoos are immensely grateful.

In his first year as the Cavaliers’ full-time point guard—he split those duties with Kihei Clark until this season—Beekman leads the team in assists and steals. He’s second in scoring (11.6 ppg) and third in blocked shots, and he’s turned the ball over only 11 times.

Reece Beekman (2)

* The Hoos are no one-man team. Five players are averaging at least 6.9 points per game apiece: McKneely (12.9), Beekman (11.6), Dunn (9.3), Groves (7.8), Bond (7.3) and Rohde (6.9).

“In previous years it’s always two or three guys that’s gonna get 15, 20 [points] that you pretty much had to key on,” Moton said, “but Tony, he’s done a good job, and every night it’s going to be someone else different that’s stepping up. I think he’s done an outstanding job in recruiting athletes to implement into the system.”

* Virginia will run when opportunities arise. The Cavaliers remain deliberate on offense, but they’re averaging nearly nine steals per game, and they’ve pounced on opponents’ live-ball turnovers. Virginia had 22 fast-break points against NCCU.

In transition, McKneely is a formidable option on the perimeter, and Dunn, Beekman, Gertrude, Bond and Harris are difficult to stop in the open court.

* Bond is an intriguing talent. He has yet to start a game for the Cavaliers, but Bond is shooting a team-high 56.9 percent from the floor, mostly on midrange jumpers, and he’s third on the team in rebounds (4.2 per game).

“He’s crafty around the lane,” Bennett said. “He’s got a real nice fallaway pullup. He can score on the blocks [and] slash. As he continues to learn how to be continuous and think even a little quicker defensively, then he can start using his length and his athleticism. Sometimes he’s a little behind the play because he’s still trying to think through stuff.”

Bond is still reacting more than anticipating on defense, Bennett said, “but some of his natural instincts I love, and he’s really improved. He’s improved his ball handling, he’s improved his shot, and I think his best basketball is in front of him.”

* The transition to Power Five hoops has been tough for Jordan Minor. The 6-foot-8, 242-pound Minor was the Northeast Conference Co-Player of the Year and NEC Defensive Player of the Year as a Merrimack College senior in 2022-23.

Merrimack played zone defense, however, and Minor has yet to grasp the nuances of the Pack Line. At the other end, he’s 4 for 14 from the floor and hasn’t attempted a free throw.

In such situations, Bennett said, the coaches “encourage those guys just keep battling” and not hang their heads. Minor will “keep coming and he’ll keep working and he’s a wonderful teammate,” Bennett said. “So all that stuff’s good. And I think all of our new guys … have a good chemistry in terms of playing for each other and accepting whatever comes their way.”

* Overall, the Hoos have shown the necessary mindset. “We have no other option,” Bennett said, “because if we don’t come out right, it doesn’t matter who we’ll play, we’ll get beat, and the second are guys think differently is the second that we’ll lose, and you can’t afford that.”

Virginia lost 65-41 to Wisconsin at last month’s Fort Myers Classic in Florida. In its second game at that tournament, UVA edged West Virginia 56-54.

“Our margin of error, like a lot of teams’, is awfully slim, so we have no other way and there’s no shame in that,” Bennett said. “That’s just the way it is. Come out ready, and either you’re a team that is building towards being as sound and tough on both ends with the right approach, or you’re just a pretender. Our guys understand that they can’t be that way; we don’t have any other options.”

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Ryan Dunn (13)