What do we know about UVA basketball heading into holidays?
But, yes, there are lots of questions about this team.
The schedule hasn’t been as tough as you might have expected it to be going into the season. Middle Tennessee, for instance, is 3-9, after going 25-8 last season. George Washington, which three years ago won 28 games, including one over a UVA team that went on to the Elite Eight, is also 3-9.
South Carolina, two years removed from a Final Four, is 4-7.
You can’t help the teams you play not playing the way you assumed when you scheduled them.
That said, this team has really only been challenged three times this season, on a neutral court by a good Wisconsin team, in a tough environment in College Park at Maryland, and at home against VCU.
From here on out, you have Marshall, 7-5 this season, after winning 25, and an NCAA Tournament game, in 2017-2018, and then the ACC.
More tests are coming, is the point there.
How will Virginia answer?
The Big Three is as good as any Big Three in the nation. Ty Jerome has snuck into the Top 10 of the KenPom Player of the Year ratings, and he has been The Dude for the ‘Hoos through November and December, making the big shots in the tight games.
But it’s Hunter who leads the team in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
And then there’s Kyle Guy, improving on his stats after being named first-team All-ACC and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award last season.
Beyond the Big Three? Eh.
The post is a question mark, still. Jack Salt is nominally the starter at the five, but he’s only averaging 21.8 minutes per game.
Mamadi Diakite has started the last two for Tony Bennett, but he’s averaging 16.5 minutes per game.
Bennett seems to prefer going small with this group, when freshman guard Kihei Clark is healthy. Clark hasn’t missed any games, but he did have surgery on a broken wrist during the exam break, and he’s come off the bench the past two games, in favor of Diakite.
Assume Clark will return to the starting lineup when Virginia plays Marshall on Dec. 31, alongside Jerome and Guy in the backcourt.
Hunter, then, moves to the frontcourt, with Salt, with Braxton Key, averaging 21.1 minutes per game, and Diakite coming off the bench.
That’s your rotation right now: a seven-man group.
Jay Huff, a 7’1” redshirt sophomore, is averaging 9.9 minutes per game, but judging from Saturday’s 72-40 win over William & Mary, in which Huff played just five minutes, getting yanked in the first half after giving up back-to-back buckets in the post, his minutes from here on out are likely to be of the garbage time variety.
Marco Anthony, similarly, is averaging 8.9 minutes, but he got seven Saturday, including garbage time.
In the sense of developing depth, then, you have to consider the early part of the season a fail for Bennett and the coaching staff.
This team is going to be small, and it’s going to be limited in terms of depth.
In terms of output, it’s as good as any unit that Bennett has had at UVA. KenPom.com has Virginia at ninth in the nation in offensive efficiency, scoring 1.160 points per possession.
Last year’s unit, for comparison, scored 1.152 points per possession, but that was just 30th nationally.
The defense this year isn’t as good as past groups, but that’s relative. The ‘Hoos are fifth nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing .881 points per possession.
Last year’s D was first nationally, allowing .856 points per possession.
You might look at that as Bennett conceding a bit to the reality of how you need to win in March. This team, with Clark at the point, freeing up Jerome to join Guy on the wings, and Hunter as college basketball’s most intriguing stretch-four, can put the ball in the hoop much more effectively than last year’s group, and might be as good as the 2015-2016 ‘Hoos that went to an Elite Eight, and also ended up ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency.
(And was seventh nationally in defensive efficiency.)
So, better, from what we can tell, on offense, good, just not as good, but still pretty good, on defense.
A little light in terms of depth.
A little smallish.
Faster. No question, faster.
That’s what we know so far.
Column by Chris Graham
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