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Virginia Men's Basketball

Opening Week Reactions

(Image-AP Photo-Jessica Hill)

The trip to Bubbleville started with a splash, then ended with us on the wrong end of a bang. Upset loss included, it’s been an eventful week. Trey Murphy was declared eligible and exploded for 21 points in his debut. We got our first look at a bunch of new Wahoos. Tony Bennett unveiled a new 5-out offensive set. There’s a lot to digest. Here’s some of my initial reactions.

Casey is Key

This UVA team is far from Bennett’s most talented group of individual defenders. They’ll improve as they become more cohesive, but they’re more dependent on the system as a whole than previous teams. In time, that should provide a high floor and maybe even the usual statistical position among the best nationally. The separator is how well they’ll defend their most talented opponents. It’s still individual play that determines that ceiling. Maybe above all else this year by whether one particular player is trusted in the lineup.

Sophomore guard Casey Morsell is a special on-ball defender. He’s a stopper, capable of terrorizing the opponent’s best at any of three positions. From Brogdon to Hunter, or recently Braxton Key, Bennett teams have always had that guy. It’s a crucial ingredient baked into a proven recipe. Morsell is the only player on this roster that fits the mold.

Although he’s started both games, Casey has only played an average of 16 minutes. The disturbing part is that he sat nearly all the 2nd half in yesterday’s loss. He’s not firmly in Bennett’s circle of trust yet. Truthfully, he probably isn’t one of the best five right now. Especially with the way Reece Beekman has performed. It doesn’t necessarily matter if he starts or how many minutes he averages. But for this team to reach its full potential, Casey needs to earn Bennett’s trust on both ends of the court so that he can be out there in those crucial spots. It could be the difference between a good season and a banner year..

Shedrick on Schedule

The guy I was most excited to see this week was redshirt-freshman big man Kadin Shedrick. His potential is enormous and he continuously improved late in his high school career. After hiding him away for a year, I was pretty pretty anxious to get a look. While he wasn’t statistically productive, the growth is obvious to anyone that was familiar with him before he arrived. Other than a couple miscues, he’s shown good discipline and court awareness, which was my concern. And really he just looks very comfortable out there, occasionally showing flashes of what’s coming in the years ahead.

His winning the backup center spot is one of the lineup surprises so far, and maybe the one with the biggest long term impact. It means he has the edge on Francisco Caffaro for what will be an open job in the starting lineup next year. I’m pleasantly surprised by that. Nothing against Papi, who should be important down the line as well, but Kadin is the by far the more talented player. His physical tools are special. The combination of size and mobility along with a developing offensive skillset make him the ideal model of what we’re looking for in a modern big man.

Brace for Transfers After the Season

This was honestly my first post-game thought on Wednesday. Fans need to prepare themselves for the reality that there likely will be a transfer or two after the season. It’s inevitable. This is a ridiculously deep roster. Coaches can’t keep 13 players in-line with expectations, especially when the talent is skewed toward youth. You’re already seeing the fallout as competition is heating up for what will surely be a shortened rotation by conference play. They’re all bought in to do what’s best for the team, for now. After the season, each of them will examine their own roles going forward. Not all will like what they foresee.

Transfer numbers are going to rise this year all over college basketball thanks to the coming rule change allowing immediate eligibility. The real key going forward is to make sure UVA continues to get difference makers in return like Trey Murphy and Sam Hauser because there will be more available.

Recruiting for the 5-out Offense

I’ll admit up front that I’m not much of an X & Os guy, but I do follow our Boy Wonder analyst Zach Carey. Thanks to him, I can speak somewhat intelligently on the subject. If this new offense they’re running is indeed going to be the primary set going forward, it will change recruiting quite a bit. I’ll probably do a full article on this at some point, but here’s the obvious headlines so far.

The offense is essentially positionless, aside from the point guard. From that standpoint, it’s a real transformation. We’ve gone from very clear dividing lines between guards and forwards to really no difference on offense. That’s going to be very attractive to skilled power forwards in particular,. Those are the guys that don’t want to defend guards but do want to be utilized like one on offense. Well now, they can. The next Sam Hauser will be much easier to get. Whereas, I don’t know if there’s a place for Isaiah Wilkins or Akil Mitchell now. That’s a little concerning when you consider how important those type of players have been in the packline defense.

I think it’s clear already that Bennett wants to play without a center whenever possible. If you’re going to space the floor, it’s optimal to have five players that can shoot and put it on the floor. Obviously, that’s dependent on opponent lineup. We saw lots of the look against Towson’s small team, and only briefly against San Francisco. When we look back at the last year’s recruiting, that might partly explain the shift away from class of 2021 centers toward forwards such as Trey Kaufman. We’ll still need centers but it’s okay to space them out further.

Overall, I expect this to play very well with recruits. We do need better results than on Friday, of course.

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