(Image – Geoff Burke – USA Today Sports)
With the college basketball season fast approaching, we at Locker Room Access are launching our preseason coverage. It’s clear that this UVa men’s basketball team will be national contenders once again, and – assuming, hoping, and dreaming that the season actually happens – it should be another roller coaster ride for the Wahoo faithful.
Now, while there are a few potential weaknesses on the defensive end that this team needs to overcome, the offense boasts an expanded arsenal of options that will make life much easier for Tony Bennett and Co.
While last year’s team struggled mightily from behind the arc, the 2020-2021 Wahoos should encounter no such struggles. With Sam Hauser taking the court for the first time as a Wahoo, the team gains a lights out shooter who will demand the attention of the defense. Additionally, both Kihei Clark and Tomas Woldetensae will provide sufficient shooting from the backcourt, and Jay Huff can also stretch the floor from the center position.
While the starting lineup appears set in terms of long-range scoring, there are legitimate doubts about the rest of the rotation’s shooting abilities. Of course, there isn’t a dire need for shooting off the bench (remember, the National Championship team really only had two high-volume shooters), but the playing time prospects for Casey Morsell, Kody Stattmann, and Carson McCorkle will rely on how accurate they are from behind from behind the arc.
With both Hauser and Huff as serious threats from deep, this is likely Tony Bennett’s most versatile offensive front court to date. Sure, Diakite and Huff were a dynamic pairing last year. But Hauser will shoot a much higher volume of threes this season, and Huff ought to be even better as both a roller off ball screens and as a spot up shooter. In his Sides and Continuity Ball Screen sets, Bennett will be able to spread Hauser and Huff out wide on the wings to give the guards more opportunities to drive into an open paint.
The crucial component of this team’s offensive success will be whether or not the guards and wings can attack the hoop with any sort of consistency. Last year, ball handling was an issue for every guard not named Kihei Clark, and that forced Bennett to rely on Clark to initiate and run the offense essentially by himself. With the space provided by Huff and Hauser’s ability to stretch the floor, guys like Morsell, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, and Stattmann need to be confident slashers to take this offense and this team to the next level.
Of course, an additional aspect of Hauser’s versatility is his ability to switch between playing as a big wing and as a stretch four. So, if Bennett wants to play a bigger lineup for defensive purposes, Hauser gives him the flexibility to do so without sacrificing much – if any – offensive firepower.
Kihei Clark is the closest thing to a sure bet that there’ll be in college basketball this season. As a third year, he’s one of the most experienced players in college basketball and is undoubtedly the leader of this team. He’s not particularly flashy, but he’s reliable in the big moments.
Clark isn’t the most talented player on this team – that’s Hauser – and he certainly has areas where he needs to improve. But the majority of his struggles last season were a result of the team’s dearth of backcourt support. Fortunately, this season, the additions of Reece Beekman as a legit backup and Hauser as a steady ball handler in the front court should make life significantly easier for Clark.
As such, for this team to reach its full potential, Clark will need to improve his ball security while still working as an effective distributor. Last year, he started to be successful in drives off ball screens and was able to make plays despite his diminutive size. Now, with more shooters around him, he’ll have even more opportunities to drive and kick.
Of course, Clark is also a defensive fiend and will look to stymy opponents at the point of attack. Having such an experienced, savvy defender at lead guard will be critical for a team that lacks surefire defensive options in the front court.
All that goes to say that, with a more experienced and deeper squad around him, Clark should thrive in the leadership role he struggled in early last season. With Clark at the helm of such a versatile offense, it’s clear that this squad is set up for significant success on that side of the floor.