Another look at UVA basketball heading into the summer

UVA basketballIt appears that the market for grad transfers might be winding down, and that UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett must not have seen anything out there that he thought could help his team heading into next year.

I’m of two minds on this, if my read turns out to be correct.

First mind: worried as hell. The biggest acquisition of the offseason was De’Andre Hunter, of course. Dre coming back for his redshirt sophomore season gives the ‘Hoos two likely first-team All-ACC guys in the starting five next year, and Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are almost certainly the best three-man backcourt in college basketball heading into 2018-2019.

But: depth. There ain’t much.

Marco Anthony is your guard off the bench. You can try to convince me that Kiheil Clark and Kody Stattmann can give you some minutes, but no. Incoming freshman who are three-stars: no. Hunter, a four-star, redshirted as a first-year.

Maybe Francesco Badocchi gets some minutes after a redshirt season. That’s literally it. You’ve got five guys in the pipeline.

What this means for the starters is: a lot of minutes. Hunter, Guy and Jerome will need to give you what Guy, Jerome and Devon Hall gave you last year. Each averaged more than 33 minutes per game in ACC play in 2017-2018, and we’re not talking 33-plus a game playing the Syracuse zone or whatever it is that Duke does when Coach K rolls the ball out there for his one-and-dones and tells them to go play.

We’re talking 33 minutes of Pack Line, Mover-Blocker, constant motion, we go hard, and the rest.

The frontcourt doesn’t feature a Mike Scott or Anthony Gill, but does bring back experience in the form of Jack Salt, a redshirt senior who Bennett likes for his hard screens and defense, Mamadi Diakite, a redshirt junior who has shown flashes on both ends of the floor, and Jay Huff, the intriguing seven-footer who can’t seem to get on the floor, and has to spend his offseason recovering from shoulder surgery.

The Mover-Blocker offense doesn’t ask much from the bigs, so what you saw from Scott, Gill and Mike Tobey in past years was a bonus. The big guys are supposed to set screens to free up the perimeter guys for open looks and dribble-drives, and be able to produce on dives, post-ups on guards on switches and pick-and-pops.

Diakite has shown the ability to do all of the above, and Huff, small sample size, same thing. Salt gives you screens, D and five fouls.

And actually, Diakite has an issue with the fouls even more than Salt, averaging 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes last season.

Which made me look up Huff, and there I notice that he averaged, again, small sample size, but still, 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes.

The bigs get 80 minutes of playing time a game – two times 40. Assuming Huff recovers this summer and is able to spend some time continuing to develop his game, can he give you 20 minutes? Fifteen?

Huff is already feeling to me to be more like Tobey than Scott or Gill: a talent who doesn’t come close to living up to expectations. And God, I hope I’m way wrong on that, but it’s what I see right now, especially with this injury setting him back.

And again, don’t talk to me about Francisco Caffaro, the seven-footer from Argentina who committed on May 1. If Caffaro gives UVA anything as a true freshman in 2018-2019, it’s a bonus.

What I’m seeing here is more four-guard, with Hunter at the stretch-four, which would work out great, as it did in 2017-2018, if Anthony can step up and give 20-25 minutes a night.

That’s a big if, as is the idea that Huff can give even 10-15 minutes a night.

Now that I’ve depressed the hell out of you, to my second mind: that a grad transfer would likely not do much to help.

I think back to Nigel Johnson in this analysis. Solid player, who just didn’t seem to fit in basketball-wise.

Johnson ended up getting 16.5 minutes per game, shooting 38.6 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three, and always seemed a step out of place in terms of his responsibilities in the Pack Line, fair or not in terms of observations there.

As is the case with incoming freshmen, you just don’t step in to the UVA program even as a grad student and expect to be able to contribute right away.

The Pack Line and Mover-Blocker are detail-oriented, and different in terms of style of play than you see anywhere else, on both ends of the floor.

Scott, Gill, Hunter, Hall, even Malcolm Brogdon, all benefited from redshirt years to get better-acquainted with the system and how to be able to contribute.

My best guess is that Bennett and his staff surveyed the landscape in terms of grad transfers, maybe prioritized a guy or two, sat down with those guys and told them what would be expected of them, and when they struck out on their targets, made the wise decision to go with what they have for 2018-2019.

And, hey, if you can develop Anthony, Badocchi, Huff, the kids coming in, get more out of Diakite, who could be the breakout guy heading into next season, then, problem solved.

It’s this thinking that has me talking myself back down from the ledge, honestly.

But then again, it’s still May. I’ll revisit the ledge a few more times between now and the fall, I promise.

Column by Chris Graham

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The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.


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