Adding depth will be key for Virginia basketball in 2018-2019

virginia basketballVirginia basketball coach Tony Bennett acknowledged Monday night in his season-finale weekly radio show that he’s on the lookout for help on the perimeter from the grad-transfer market.

That, and the open spot on the coaching staff with the departure of Ron Sanchez to take the head job at UNC-Charlotte, appears to be the key news of the offseason, which is good news, that there isn’t more, after the merry-go-round from last spring.

Last year’s group lost four-year starter London Perrantes to graduation and key contributors Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson, along with little-used Jarred Reuter, to transfer. Bennett picked up Nigel Johnson from the grad-transfer wire, and then of course had De’Andre Hunter, who redshirted his first year, in his hip pocket.

The situation this year is similar in the respect just of the number of comings and goings. It doesn’t appear that anybody will be transferring out at this stage, but Bennett still has to account for the losses of four-year contributors Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, and Johnson, who was the first guard off the bench this past season.

Also similar is what we can presume Bennett has in his hip pocket: in the form of 7’1” forward Jay Huff and 6’4” guard Marco Anthony, who we got to see glimpses of in 2017-2018, good glimpses, and can be expected to add depth in 2018-2019.

You also get more minutes for Hunter, the ACC Sixth Man of the Year, who averaged 19.9 minutes per game in 2017-2018, but will see those minutes bump up significantly as he moves into the starting lineup.

The question for Bennett and for UVA fans is: where does Hunter start and get the bulk of his minutes? The 6’7” rising redshirt sophomore is on paper a guard, but he worked his way into the rotation early in the ACC season as a stretch-four, then was used at the three when Bennett would shorten his bench to get rest for Hall, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy.

It would seem that the best lineup going into 2018-2019 would be Jerome, Guy and Hunter in the backcourt, with Huff or Mamadi Diakite starting alongside Jack Salt in the post, with Anthony the first guard off the bench.

That seven is as good as any seven in the nation, and will be the reason Virginia will enter the 2018-2019 season as a Top 5 team nationally and a favorite, alongside Duke, in the ACC.

The issue, as was the case down the stretch this past season, will be depth. It would be great if Bennett would be able to develop depth in November and December, from among the group including 6’7” guard Francesco Badocchi, who redshirted this season, and incoming recruits Kody Stattman, a 6’7” small forward, and 5’9” point guard Kihei Clark.

Those three, plus whoever may emerge from the grad-transfer market, could be key to reversing the trend of, well, you know, no sense rehashing that.

Bennett went with an eight-man rotation this year, which is not all that unusual in college basketball, and unlike in past years, there was no fade down the stretch that one could argue would have resulted from overusage.

It is inarguable, though, that the team seemed off-kilter in the NCAA Tournament loss to UMBC, lacking energy even in pregame warmups, and as much as one can chalk up the stunning defeat that followed to early foul trouble for Hall and Wilkins and the absence of Hunter, there also seemed to be an issue with legs, and lack thereof, possibly a factor of how Virginia goes hard, until it can’t anymore.

For all the talk of what Bennett needs to do to get over the hump in terms of winning big games in March, with the bloviators going on about pace, style of play, the Pack-Line and the rest, it could be as simple as getting another guy or two 10-12 minutes a game, so that the studs don’t have to give you 35+ every night.

Column by Chris Graham


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