Some Virginia fans are behind the idea that Tony Bennett should give NIT minutes to Taine Murray, Igor Milicic Jr. and Carson McCorkle, treating whatever UVA gets into the tournament as preseason for 2022-2023.
The key to this idea is the notion of “give.”
Bennett isn’t about giving guys minutes. He made that clear early in the season.
“At the beginning of the year, I sat down with Malachi and Taine, Carson and Igor, and I said, look, you know, you four, we’re not really set on who are sometimes our 7, 8, 9, I may play eight, I may play nine, I may play 10, and said, You guys just stay encouraged and keep working,” Bennett said after the Nov. 19 68-52 win over Coppin State.
That one was where we first saw Malachi Poindexter get significant rotation minutes – that night, 14 – off the bench.
The sophomore, who averaged 13 points and five assists per game at St. Anne’s-Belfield as a senior in 2019-2020, was rewarded for his hard work on the practice floor.
“Just looking at practices, and that’s why the competition in practice and evaluating is important, his ability, again, to be poised, handle the ball, and shoot it well and can guard a little bit, those things stood out,” Bennett said.
Bennett made clear, they were minutes earned by Poindexter.
“I think all of our guys have to be ready all the time. Look, Kody didn’t play as much, he gave us a good lift in the other game. Carson had played in some, and Taine had played. It’s just kind of getting a feel for practices, seeing how things are, seeing how these guys perform in those opportunities. That’s why those last three minutes, I’m sure people are like, well, why wouldn’t you to put in … and I really wanted to put in the guys that worked hard in practice, but we’re trying to really watch those guys, and that three and a half minutes, and get them game reps and seeing how they perform. That stuff is really important,” Bennett said.
Of the 3Ms, only Murray would, briefly, earn rotation minutes, getting 21 minutes in the 75-74 loss to Iowa on Nov. 29, scoring 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 4-of-6 from three.
The 6’6” freshman would get 16 minutes in the win over Pitt four days later, 12 minutes in the loss at JMU on Dec. 7, 14 in the win at Syracuse on Jan. 1, nine in the win at Clemson on Jan. 4, then 19 total the rest of the way, those 19 garbage-time minutes.
Milicic, a 6’10” freshman, only got meaningful minutes in games with Coppin State (13), Georgia (10), Lehigh (13), Farleigh Dickinson (12) and Clemson (10), getting just 15 minutes of garbage time after Jan. 1.
McCorkle, a 6’3” sophomore, got three rotation-time minutes in the 74-71 win at Miami on Feb. 19, which were memorable only because of his plus/minus for that stretch – -7, as Miami players practically fought each other to get him in one-on-one matchups.
Bennett laid down the law way back in November that playing time would be earned, and apparently the guys who earned minutes off the bench were Poindexter and senior Kody Stattmann.
Stattmann averaged a modest 3.2 points per game in 15.3 minutes per game, but had key outings against Wake Forest (11 points in 24 minutes), N.C. State (eight points in 15 minutes), Miami (eight points in 27 minutes) and Louisville (11 points in 29 minutes).
Poindexter averaged a more modest 1.1 points in 6.8 minutes per game, but played heroically in the win at Duke, giving Bennett 14 important minutes off the bench with Reece Beekman in foul trouble, his plus/minus for that stretch a respectable -4.
Could Virginia have fared better this season if Murray, Milicic and McCorkle, all highly-prized prep recruits, had earned more minutes, and maybe brought more firepower off the bench?
Bennett has his standards, and Mike Scott, Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III, among many others, had to work up to them.
All rode the pine until they earned their minutes.
If you play guys who don’t practice with the effort that you demand, then no one will practice or play with the effort that you demand.
You set a standard, then hold people to it.
It’s how you win ACC and national titles.
Story by Chris Graham