Offseason Outlook: Francisco Caffaro hopes to carve out role in frontcourt

Francisco CaffaroTimes are a changin’ for the national champion Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett’s squad is undergoing significant reconstruction following the early NBA Draft entries of Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Mamadi Diakite (who still has until May 29 to decide whether he will remain in or return). Marco Anthony, a seldom-used reserve, also is leaving the program via transfer, and Jack Salt has exhausted his eligibility. Class of 2019 recruits Casey Morsell, Kadin Shedrick and Justin McKoy are on their way in. That leaves Bennett and his staff having to fill at least three scholarships — four if Diakite stays in the draft — in the next few weeks. That process will certainly include at least one player eligible immediately as a graduate transfer or a Class of 2019 recruit. It could also include the addition of an undergraduate transfer, someone who won’t be able to contribute until next season. Virginia has been linked to players in all three categories.

Though the Cavaliers are currently shorthanded, the development over the next few months of the players currently on the projected 2019-2020 roster will be crucial to the team’s chance to rebuild following the most successful season in program history. This series examines what each individual needs to do this summer to make the most out of a semi-transitional year for what has become one of the nation’s best programs.

Francisco Caffaro redshirted this season for the Cavaliers, learning behind Salt, Diakite and Jay Huff, but could see significant action in the upcoming year.

The numbers

None (redshirted)

The strengths

Not much was known about Caffaro when he committed to the Cavaliers in May, 2018, but it didn’t take long for him to change that. The following month, at the FIBA U18 Americas tournament in Canada, Caffaro posted 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds across six contests for his native Argentina. He was named to the all-tournament first team for his efforts.

Caffaro stands a rock-solid 7-feet and 233 pounds. His frame and physicality reminds some of Salt, but strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis called Caffaro “a little bit more refined offensively at this point” when comparing both players’ redshirt seasons. For what it’s worth Caffaro, scored 22 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 shooting from the charity stripe against a USA team loaded with top talent in the Americas tournament. He also added six boards and four assists. Those highlights can be found here.

Caffaro is extremely active inside on both ends of the floor, and he works hard to establish good position, whether he’s catching the ball on the block to attack offensively or preparing to get a rebound on the defensive end. He goes for the ball at its highest point and shows good instincts and strength on the boards.

The weaknesses

Caffaro’s biggest strength at that tournament was, well, his strength. He could out-muscle opposing post players to get wherever he wanted. Strength doesn’t disappear at higher levels, but the advantage is minimized a bit. Caffaro likely won’t be able to bully his way through defenders like he did against high schoolers last summer. He’ll look to refine his game a bit, especially his face-up game.

Another issue, though not exactly related to his game, is his ability to stay healthy. Caffaro arrived at Virginia with a broken bone in his leg, and his rehabilitation meant a redshirt year was the only sensible option. He also dealt with back issues throughout the season, VirginiaSports’ Jeff White reported. Caffaro plays the game really hard, which is obviously a good thing, but injuries, especially recurring ones like back problems, can be tough to overcome. Staying healthy is key.

The offseason agenda

Time and time again, redshirt years have helped Virginia’s players. Fellow international big men Salt and Diakite both took one and blossomed into valuable contributors for Virginia. Caffaro can follow in that path given his size, strength and activity level. You don’t just luck into first-team honors at major international tournaments. Caffaro’s a legitimate player with promise.

There are certainly some areas to address, however. The first, undoubtedly, is Caffaro’s face-up game, one thing he focused on during his redshirt year, according to roommate Kody Stattmann. Caffaro should have a solid base as a midrange shooter given his abilities at the free-throw line. He shot 64.2 percent from there at the Americas tournament, a reasonable number for a still-developing big man. Caffaro has shown his ability on the block. If he can turn around and make a jumper out to 10 or 12 feet, that will help him immensely.

Defensively, adjusting to the pack line defense is and always will be a challenge for Virginia players early in their careers. Defensively, it appears Caffaro and Salt have some similarities, and Salt struggled with fouls as a redshirt freshman. Defending without fouling is an absolute must in Bennett’s system, and Caffaro must continue to develop in that area.

The outlook

The physical tools are what make Caffaro an exciting addition to this year’s active roster. He’s big, strong and hard-working. He doesn’t take plays off, and he can score effectively when he gets good position low on the block. He sprinkled in some impressive passing at the Americas tournament, and Curtis’s assessment of him as a more offensively refined Jack Salt is a pretty good start. There are minutes to be had behind Diakite (if he returns) and Huff in the frontcourt, even when the Cavaliers use a four-guard lineup. Expect Caffaro to make a strong run to earn those minutes.


Story by Zach Pereles


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