Home Bennett lands another big man, San Diego State’s Elijah Saunders, off the portal

Bennett lands another big man, San Diego State’s Elijah Saunders, off the portal

uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

A few hours ago, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett had a frontcourt featuring a sophomore center, a redshirt freshman backup center, a high-school kid coming in to try to play power forward, and that was it.

In the span of a couple of hours, Bennett went from that to an embarrassment of big-man riches.

Not long after Duke five-star freshman TJ Power committed to Virginia off the transfer portal, Bennett landed San Diego State big man Elijah Saunders, who at 6’8”, 240, will give the ‘Hoos heft and more shooting in the post.

Saunders, who will have two years of eligibility remaining, averaged 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game for a San Diego State team that loss to eventual national champ UConn in the Sweet 16.

For a big, broad guy, Saunders is a threat on the perimeter, connecting on 32.2 percent of his threes and 33.1 percent of his jumpers overall in 2023-2024.

And this is on decent volume – Saunders was 39-of-121 on his threes and 43-of-130 on all jumpers last season.

He was also 24-of-25 at the free-throw line, suggesting that his ceiling on the perimeter is probably much higher than we’ve already seen from him.

Synergy Sports rates Saunders as excellent on the defensive end, holding opponents to 30.2 percent shooting and 0.750 points per possession in 2023-2024.

After a busy Monday, then, a frontcourt that looked to be a weak point for Bennett, after he lost Jordan Minor and Jake Groves to exhausted eligibility, and Ryan Dunn to the lure of riches from the NBA, is a point of strength.

Blake Buchanan, a 6’11”, 225-pound four-star recruit from the Class of 2023, was the only returning frontcourt player from 2023-2024.

I had been thinking Buchanan was a lock to start at the five spot, but I’m of the mindset now that Saunders, though a bit undersized at 6’8”, will compete for minutes at the five with his wide body and his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

I like the other transfer-portal pickup, Power, listed at 6’9”, 216, to start at the four spot, to stretch defenses with his three-point shooting.

The depth will come from redshirt freshman Anthony Robinson, a big (6’10, 238-pound) space-eater, and incoming four-star freshman recruit Jacob Cofie, who is listed at 6’9”, 225.

This, honestly, is as much frontcourt talent as Bennett has ever had in his time at Virginia.

For all the frustration from UVA fans at how long it took Bennett to replenish the roster from the portal, the pickups of Saunders, Power and Florida State guard Jalen Warley were very much worth the wait.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].