Home Virginia is ‘soft’: Where do we see it the most? The worst place: in the post

Virginia is ‘soft’: Where do we see it the most? The worst place: in the post

Chris Graham
uva jordan minor wake forest
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

The problems for Tony Bennett during Virginia’s first rough patch, Dec. 16-Jan. 13, from the Northeastern near-miss through the loss at Wake Forest, both had to do with the bigs: post defense and rebounding.

Bennett stumbled upon a fix in the form of grad senior Jordan Minor, whose insertion into the rotation triggered an eight-game winning streak, but for whatever reason, Minor’s minutes have been in decline of late – he’s averaged 13.3 minutes per game over Virginia’s last three, getting eight in the loss to Pitt and 13 in the loss down at Virginia Tech.

The problems in those two losses: post defense and rebounding.

Yeah, go figure, right?

Fewer minutes for Minor means more minutes for the guys who got the bulk of them at the five spot earlier in the season – 6’11” freshman Blake Buchanan and 6’9” grad senior Jake Groves.

Buchanan projects as an impact post guy once he fills out – nice way of saying there, once he hits the weight room.

Groves, for his part, is a reed-thin (he’s listed at 211) stretch-four who has no business being asked to guard grown-ass men in the post.

You see what the issue is.

The ones who got away

kadin shedrick
Kadin Shedrick. Photo: UVA Athletics

It’s here where fans email me about what could have been – Virginia lost three bigs to the transfer portal in the 2023 offseason, Kadin Shedrick (Texas), Isaac Traudt (Creighton) and Francisco Caffaro (Santa Clara).

The grass isn’t necessarily greener.

Starting with Shedrick, who is averaging 7.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game at Texas, but his playing time has been dramatically diminished of late – he’s averaging 11.7 minutes per game since Jan. 13, with related drops in scoring (3.9 points per game) and rebounding (1.6 boards per game).

He’s pretty much regressed to what he was doing at Virginia, when he lost his starting spot each of the past two seasons in mid-January, and pouted on his way out last spring.

Traudt is barely getting any run at Creighton, averaging 3.1 points in 10.5 minutes per game, and he’s only gotten double-digits in minutes twice since Jan. 1.

Caffaro is, well, Caffaro – even a step down at Santa Clara, in the WCC, he’s averaging a Caffaro-like 4.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game.

I point all of this out to make the wider point that, it’s not necessarily the case that what we lost from last year’s group is better than what we have now.

Deeper issues

armando bacot
Armando Bacot. Photo: ACC/Jaylynn Nash

The bigger issues here would seem to be, well, first one, recruiting.

Armando Bacot, for instance, is from Richmond, and was able to get into North Carolina, a not-easy-to-get-into school, where Roy Williams sold him on, come here, and you won’t have to set screens and rebound for four years, when actually, setting screens and rebounding is what gets bigs into the NBA, and he’s at Carolina for a fifth year for a reason, and it’s because his game isn’t suited for the NBA.

And then there’s Mark Williams, from Virginia Beach, who is in the NBA, averaging 12.7 points per game in Charlotte this season, after two underwhelming seasons at Duke, another school that takes some doing to be able to get into.

Would have been nice to have kept either or both of those guys in-state, but, oh, well.

We’ve got what we’ve got, which leads to the second issue that I see holding things back here – let me get my hard hat on to protect myself from the incoming projectiles, OK, done.

Ahem, coaching.

The system is what it is, and hey, it’s produced a national championship, an Elite Eight, a Sweet Sixteen, two ACC Tournament and six ACC regular-season titles in the last decade.

For all the negative recruiting aimed at guys like Bacot and Williams about how all Virginia does with its bigs is have them set screens and rebound, Bennett and his staff have developed unheralded prep post guys into being NBA guys – Mike Scott, Anthony Gill, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff.

It’s been a minute, though.

Huff was Class of 2021.

The bigs who followed:

  • Jayden Gardner had two productive seasons as an undersized four, and is now averaging 15.5 points per game for Kortrijk in Belgium.
  • I’ve gone over, in great detail, what Shedrick, Traudt and Caffaro are up to.
  • One other who left the nest: Igor Milicic, who averaged 2.1 points in 6.3 minutes a game at UVA in 2021-2022, then transferred out to Charlotte (for a year, anyway, playing for Ron Sanchez, who is now back on Bennett’s staff at Virginia). The 6’10” Milicic is averaging 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this season.

That last one is the one who got away, but I digress.

Gardner, though limited at 6’6”, was at least productive for two years, but the other bigs – Shedrick, Traudt, Caffaro, Milicic – didn’t develop in their time at Virginia, which is why Bennett had to go out and find quick fixes on the transfer portal, like Ben Vander Plas, a one-year rental last year, and then this year’s one-year rentals, Minor and Groves.

We all love Jason Williford, the big man coach on the staff, but his position group hasn’t been getting the job done.

Where we are

anthony robinson uva
Anthony Robinson. Photo: UVA Athletics

Minor will get the start at center on Saturday; he’s the best option Bennett has to try to body up Bacot in the post.

God save us all if Minor gets a foul in the first minute or two, and Bennett does what Bennett does and glues him to the bench for the next several minutes.

Because then what happens if Buchanan gets a couple? Groves can’t handle Bacot one-on-one, and the post doubles haven’t been working this year, unless you count giving up wide-open threes to guys catching passes out of the double-team as working.

Here’s where I make a suggestion: what about that redshirt on 6’10” freshman Anthony Robinson?

I get to see Robinson in his postgame shooting sessions, and the kid looks ready physically – he’s gained 20 pounds since enrolling in the summer, now checking in at 245, and it’s a healthy, grown-ass man 245.

The hard part to the redshirt thing would be giving up a year to ask him to play 8-10 minutes a game for four, five, maybe six or so games, but then, the sales pitch would be, those games would include North Carolina, Duke, the ACC Tournament, then the NCAA Tournament.

It wouldn’t be just for the UNC game, just so I could be clear on that. The issue with lack of depth in the post is season-long; getting Robinson out of his redshirt would address a need that has been there from the opening tip in November.

They’re not going to do it, but when this season comes to its inevitable earlier-than-it-should-have-been conclusion, the softness in the post will be the reason why.

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].