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Virginia Men's Basketball

Hoos Make the Cut. Now What?

In the last two days, a pair of Virginia’s top 2021 recruiting targets have named the Hoos as finalists. Paul VI (VA) guard Trevor Keels is down to three, and Silver Creek (IN) forward Trey Kaufman has a top five. If we’re being honest, the schools that survived the cuts aren’t a surprise to anyone that’s paid attention. No contenders were removed. The calculus hasn’t changed at all. However, it does signify both young men are ready to move forward. The end is in sight. That’s the real news here, and it’s certainly a welcome development.

I’ve talked before about how scripted the recruiting process has gotten. These final short lists are part of that. It’s a milestone, sort of a last hurrah in their journey. Regardless of comments in interviews, not every school on the list has an equal chance. Yes, they do have favorites. And in most cases, there are schools on there that aren’t being considered. It’s a hard year to figure out who’s what too. I’m here to try to cut through the fog. Not that my opinions are all that bold, but they are original. No one clicked on this blog to read a script, so I’m not giving you one.

Trevor Keels

It’s been a long road with this one. Today is actually the anniversary of the opening day of last year’s recruiting period when Tony Bennett and Jason Williford were at Paul VI for 6:30 AM workouts. Their first stop was for Trevor. We didn’t find out the details of that until later, so maybe you didn’t know. Names have came and gone this year. Priorities have shifted. The relentless pursuit of Keels has been the one constant.

I’ll be up front with the disclaimer that my version of what’s happening here is different than you’ll get other places, especially non-Virginia sources. The national punditry seems to believe that UVA is the window dressing on this list. Everyone that covers recruiting has to rely on their own trusted sources. That’s never been more important than this year in the absence of in-person recruiting to serve as validation. It’s tempting to hedge closer to the crowd when your opinion widely differs. I’m not going to do that. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. But again, you didn’t come here for a script.

I think of the Keels recruitment as having two brackets, the blue bloods and the blue collars. They represent different paths. He needs to make two choices, which path to take and which program within that group is best for him. Virginia and Villanova are in the blue collar bracket. They’re very similar. Both are wildly successful and led by future Hall of Fame coaches in their prime. They produce pros, but mostly NBA role players that needed time to get there. Duke, of course, is the blue blood left standing. Coach K is selling a completely different product, an opposite path.

He’s been the top priority for Tony Bennett and Jay Wright for a full year. There’s nothing relevant about either school or program that he doesn’t already know. He’s fielded their best pitches, repeatedly. It seems very unlikely to me that he doesn’t know which of those two he prefers by now. Virginia or Villanova has a great chance, while the other has very little hope. The question is, who won? That’s where opinions differ. Every UVA source that I trust echos the same thing, confidence that they’re in great position. It’s my belief that the blue collar bracket belongs to the Wahoos.

That still leaves the blue blood, Duke. Bennett worked hard for a head start to avoid exactly this predicament. Coach K never saw Trevor in-person after offering in December. None of that matters anymore. Time, aided by the dead period, has faded it into a distant memory. There’s no competing with Duke, not on their terms anyway. Their pitch focuses on things that we simply can’t match. It’s a battle of ideologies more than coaches or schools. And I do believe that’s the standoff taking place behind the scenes right now. It’s up to Keels to pick the path best for him. I expect we’ll find out his verdict later this month.

Trey Kaufman

Virginia offered Kaufman in April. In hindsight, we probably should have considered him a top target far earlier. Bennett made multiple trips to Silver Creek. He spent more effort on Trey than many of the early targets we focused our attention on. They’re all in on this guy, and for good reason. He and Keels aren’t just two of the most hotly contested recruits in the class, I would argue they’re both among the 10 most valuable to a college program.

Let’s trim the fat first. I wouldn’t quite call Purdue window dressing since they are actively involved, but their odds are so low that I don’t really feel they’re worth discussing in detail. That ship probably sailed when they landed early UVA target Caleb Furst. Indiana State is widow dressing. Trey’s uncle was a star there. They recruited him early when he wasn’t such a hot commodity. Including them on his list seems to be a show of respect and gratitude. It’s worth noting that Trey is still open to newcomers, so there’s potential for lurking Kentucky to become a factor.

North Carolina offered Kaufman in late July. That was the first conversation he had with Roy Williams, who has never seen him play live. That’s an enormous hurdle to clear, especially with a recruit that talks so much about the importance of relationships. I consider them the wildcard. They don’t offer a great path to early playing time, and already have a positionally similar player committed. It would defy most of the logic that everyone has applied to Trey’s recruitment. But this is UNC. Never underestimate the appeal of Carolina Blue.

That leaves us with what I believe are the clear top two contenders, Indiana and Virginia. If you go down the list of what Trey says he’s looking for, it’s almost divided evenly between the two. Indiana has geography and relationships on their side. And that’s an understatement. He knows their entire team. Five of them played in his AAU program. That familiarity extends to the coaching staff too. Archie Miller has recruited him very hard. They also offer a crystal clear path to early playing time. He could potentially start as a freshman there. It’s the comfortable decision, safe low-risk.

We’re banking on the De’Andre Hunter model carrying a lot of weight, along with hopefully a personal connection he’s formed with Bennett. And it better be a special bond because that’s the only person in the program he’s met. Virginia offers more upside, but a harder road along the way. Honestly, this wouldn’t be much of a contest with most recruits from Indiana. Their setup is really good and they’ve recruited him right. Trey is a different kind of guy though. He’s hard to read too. I think it could go either way, and don’t really expect a decision that soon either. And that’s okay. The more he analyzes, the better UVA looks.

Don’t Forget the Kiwi

New Zealander Taine Murray has been down to a final three of Virginia, Stanford, and Maryland for nearly a month. His decision was rumored to be coming a couple weeks ago, and there wasn’t much optimism that it would go our way. As time has passed, there have been more positive signs for the Hoos. It still could go down at anytime, only it looks like anybody’s race now.

This is a complicated recruitment for Virginia. They’d love to get Murray and Keels. it’s unclear how realistic that is. Keels certainly doesn’t mind, but it has to at least be part of the calculus for Taine. This isn’t an overseas project. He has legitimate pro aspirations, and I doubt he’s planning a 5-year stay either. There’s a lot of young talent already in the Virginia backcourt. Two more seems like one too many for all parties to stay satisfied. This shouldn’t go much longer but the more time that passes the better. Further delay would mean he’s holding off to gather as much information as possible, including about UVA’s standing with Keels.

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