With the loss of 4 of the 8-man rotation from a year ago, not only will the returners have to step into bigger roles, but guys that sat the bench or weren’t even part of the program last year will need to become integral pieces of Virginia’s rotation this year.
Injuries, foul trouble, and Bennett’s trademark early season tinkering have resulted in inconsistent playing time for certain players. But the first 5 games have given us a decent idea of who will be playing the majority of the minutes for the ‘Hoos.
So far, it appears Bennett has found his top 7 guys in Kihei Clark (33 mpg), Braxton Key (31.8 mpg), Mamadi Diakite (27.8 mpg), Jay Huff (26.6 mpg), Casey Morsell (28.4 mpg), Kody Stattmann (27.0 mpg), and Tomas Woldetensae (25.8 mpg).
Going forward, questions will arise regarding the depth after those seven, particularly regarding who will play act as the backup point guard and who will be the 4th big off the bench when any of Key, Diakite, or Huff get into foul trouble. It’ll also be important to determine a pecking order among Stattmann, Morsell, and Woldetensae for minutes at shooting guard and on the wing. What doesn’t concern me is the starting lineup, as it appears that barring injuries, Clark, Diakite, and Key will be there every night while Huff’s role will depend on matchups down low.
Regarding the backup point guard minutes, Clark will likely play roughly the 33 minutes per game he’s played so far for the remainder of the year, if not more. With that in mind, the team will need someone to fill his role as the primary ball handler during those seven minutes or so without him on the floor.
Chase Coleman has gotten some of those minutes, playing 5 minutes in the Massachusetts game and averaging 4 per game. Yes, a few of those minutes have come in scrub time, but it’s been encouraging to see Bennett put faith in a first year walk on. Coleman hasn’t shown any glaring weaknesses. He’s a quick on ball defender, and can at least distribute ball to others on offense. That said, his failed off the backboard lob to Diakite against Massachusetts will likely result in a loss in minutes in the coming games. He may also be a bit too small and a bit too rough to get real minutes in ACC play. Of course, we’ve said that about other small, unheralded first year point guards.
Morsell is likely the other option to fill those minutes. His shooting woes have been well documented, as has his defensive prowess. But for him to play minutes at point guard, it’ll be critical for him to be comfortable with the ball in his hands. For the most part, his job on offense has been to catch and shoot, or to attack closeouts. With that in mind, there are questions regarding whether or not he can be the one to set up the offense, rather than just be a component of it.
Either way, it’s likely whoever plays the backup point guard minutes will be looking to get the ball inside to the veterans, so it could come down to who’s better defensively and is smarter with the ball. So far, that’s been Morsell.
As we saw against Massachusetts, there will be times when the big men get into foul trouble, especially in conference play. That’s why it will be important for either Justin McKoy or Francisco Caffaro establish themselves as a reliable piece of the rotation, so that Bennett can be confident that he can let Diakite, Huff, or Key sit if necessary without having to stretch somebody like Stattmann or Woldetensae to the 4.
Caffaro and McKoy have each played limited minutes, Caffaro 3 mpg in 3 games (only getting playing time in 2 of the 3 games he was active for) and McKoy 7 mpg in 5. McKoy has gotten more real time minutes and has looked sufficient defensively. Caffaro, out for the first 2 games due to a thigh injury, hasn’t had as much of an opportunity, but did play 2 minutes when Diakite was forced to the bench in the first half against Massachusetts. McKoy has looked more fluid defensively, and with Diakite and Huff staggering minutes at center, he’ll likely be the 4th big as he’s more flexible to play minutes at the 3 and 4. Caffaro on the other hand is a pure center, and will probably sit the bench behind Diakite and Huff.
It will be interesting to see how Bennett tinkers with the line up throughout the year. I assume that Huff will eventually become a staple in the starting lineup, but that may not happen until conference play as many of the out of conference opponents boast smaller lineups that could take advantage of lineups with Key, Diakite, and Huff all on the floor at once.
One key (pun intended) to the success of this team will be whether or not Huff and Diakite can be efficient on the floor together. Bennett has staggered them at center through 5 games, but has for the most part left them in together in late game situations. Lineups including the both of them will likely depend on how well Diakite can shoot from the outside and whether or not they can match up well defensively.
But the most up for grabs part of Virginia’s rotation in my mind is who will be the shooting guard in the starting lineup. Morsell (28.4 mpg), Woldetensae (25.8 mpg), and Stattmann (27.0 mpg) are the three guys that could fill that role, and it’s likely that whoever shoots best from deep will earn that spot. Of course, their defense will be crucial, but they’ve all been relatively solid on that end. Morsell has been the best defensively, but none of them have hit enough shots to really make a strong case. With Stattmann sick for the last few games, and potentially the next couple as well (a bad virus according to Bennett), Woldetensae and Morsell will each get ample opportunity to shoot their way out of what is hopefully just a slump. In the long run, I’d pick Morsell to win out as he has the highest offensive potential and has shown signs of being a defensive stopper on the perimeter.
There’s been some encouraging developments over the first 5 games, and its good to see the rotation start to take shape. The returners have stepped up and improved crucial aspects of their game, and the potential of the newcomers is evident. Hopefully, the Cavs can get and stay healthy and the less experienced guys can gain enough in game experience to prepare them for the gauntlet that is conference play.
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Anti Offense Defense Hoodie (B/W)
The Anti Offense Defense Club Hoodie symbolizes more than just a way of playing basketball. The waves in the logo represent the emotional roller coaster of being a fan. Nothing else reps the lows and highs like UVA basketball. Justin Anderson and Devon Hall both asked to have this in black and white.