UVA Basketball: Waiting for De’Andre Hunter to step up

De’Andre HunterI’m nitpicking here, UVA basketball fans, but, I’m worried about our guy De’Andre Hunter.

Hunter, we’ve all been told, since around this time last year, is a surefire NBA lottery pick next June, should he decide to forego his last two seasons in Charlottesville.

So, it’s a bit of a surprise to see him sort of floating through the past couple of games, wins over VCU and South Carolina.

Hunter was just 1-for-6 from the floor in the 57-49 win over VCU on Dec. 9, then was 2-for-10, with three of his shots blocked, in the 69-52 win at South Carolina Wednesday night.

It would be one thing if it was because the Rams and Gamecocks had done something special defensively to stop Hunter, but he didn’t appear to be any more the focus of either’s game plans as anybody else.

Wednesday night, South Carolina even seemed to exploit Hunter by going zone, which is as odd to write as it is to have to explain.

Hunter had been effective last season in wins over Duke and Syracuse playing the pivot in the ‘Hoos zone offense, setting up in the area of the free-throw line, the soft part of a zone defense, and creating baskets for himself and teammates with dribble-drives, when he wasn’t hitting the short jumper when defenders sagged.

But against South Carolina, Hunter seemed lost against the 2-3, struggling to get open, then missing his jumpers and his one dribble-drive.

By the second half, coach Tony Bennett rearranged the deck chairs, and had Braxton Key setting up shop at the foul line against the USC zone, and he was effective, scoring on one drive to the hoop, and setting up another layup with what you could call a hockey assist – a pass leading to another pass leading to a UVA layup.

More telling, Hunter only got to the charity stripe once. Even when his shots weren’t going down in the win over VCU, Hunter was still 7-for-7 at the line.

The competition is about to ratchet up, obviously. The ACC is likely to have six teams, including Virginia, ranked in next week’s Top 25.

Hunter is going to need to step up if this Virginia team is going to redeem itself after last season’s early NCAA Tournament flameout.

Column by Chris Graham

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Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

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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