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Virginia Men's Basketball

Mailbag: New Offense, Lineup Battles, Small Ball, and more.

The mailbag is back with lots of juicy questions following the opening week action. We’re going to continue trying to do these each week during the season. Fans can submit their questions on twitter or on our forum. Do-it-all writer/analyst Zach Carey joins me for the blog portion. Be sure to check out the podcast where many of the same topics are discussed by Mark Jerome along with former players Doug Smith and Chris Havlicek.

Zach:  I did a complete breakdown of this new 5 out look here but at its most basic level this is a spread, motion offense meant to give guys like Hauser, Murphy, and Huff opportunities to affect the game from the perimeter rather than only working as screeners. 

As for why they’ve completely abandoned the continuity ball screen set? Well it seems like Bennett has been committed to trying out this new offense and that has left little room for anything else. In fact, UVA has used this new five out set on 78% of their settled offensive possessions this season with Bennett’s favorite mover blocker set taking up 13.2%. If I had to bet, I’d say Kirk Penney’s absence from the staff has contributed to the lack of ball screens. But, I do expect Bennett to incorporate more ball screens into the offense soon, whether that be with the continuity ball screen set or the more traditional spread, top-of-the-key ball screen set if for no other reason than because the Virginia guards need help separating from defenders and effectively penetrating the paint.

Hooz: No one is redshirting. Since this season doesn’t count towards eligibility, there’s no need. Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Carson McCorkle clearly aren’t in the rotation at the start of the season. It’s likely that under normal circumstances, Bennett would have entertained redshirting at least one of them. With 13 players, that’s normal protocol. The free year is going to get confusing down the line for exactly this reason. Essentially players will decide after their senior season whether to consider their first-year a redshirt.

I wouldn’t write those guys off this season. They obviously have an uphill climb to get meaningful minutes, but they’re both capable. It’s really just a numbers crunch. Jabri is a gifted scorer. He needs to improve his physicality and learn to value every possession. Carson is a gritty guard with a pure stroke. Lateral quickness to defend at this level is an issue for him right now. And you also have to remember they both missed most of their senior seasons with foot injuries. Whether or not either of them earn much of a role this year, those two have a very bright future ahead at UVA.

Zach: Casey has been phenomenal on the defensive end this season, but he’s been straight up bad offensively. He continues to rely on a fading, pull-up jumper and struggles mightily whenever he drives the ball into the paint. Frankly, he panics whenever help defense arrives and is a bit of a black hole on the offensive end. I think Bennett was content with Clark and Beekman guarding in the backcourt because he knew they’d actually give him something on the other end. 

Hooz: They were searching for offense. The first half was a struggle. Bennett started Beekman in the 2nd and then went to Tomas and Kody for a stretch. It’ll be interesting on Tuesday whether Beekman is in the opening lineup. He hasn’t committed a turnover in his first 47 minutes, which is just amazing for a first-year point guard.

Mostly it shows when Bennett is looking for his best offense, Casey wasn’t in the equation. Not right now anyway. I’ve watched him for going on four years He’s more than capable of being a very good offensive player, but until he earns Bennett’s trust on both ends of the court there will probably continue to be these long absences. I wrote about it in my Opening Week Reactions. For this team to be its best, Casey needs to be a big part of it.

Zach: It’s hard to say outright, but yeah from what I saw this is a direct result of the new five-out offensive set. There’s an argument to be made that Huff needs to be more aggressive. But, at the end of the day, it’s not a big man’s job to create for himself. Rather, it’s up to the guards and the offensive scheme to feed him the ball in a position where he can go to work. This new five out offense is essentially positionless basketball and has no option for Jay to be aggressive outside of shooting the ball from deep or taking his guy off the dribble. 

That said, one of the primary components or play designs of this set is a high post/isolation that they’ve run through Sam Hauser eight times in two games, but Huff has only been put in that position twice. Frankly, it’s preposterous that Bennett won’t elect to give the ball to Huff in the post more. He’s a potentially dominant force down there, and it’s down to Bennett and the UVA guards to realize that and throw him the rock. 

Additionally, this new five out offense lacks any type of ball screens, which is a real strength of Huff’s game. He’s an incredibly effective roller and popper off ball screens and since UVA has only run ball screen sets on 8.7% of settled offensive possessions against man defense, he hasn’t had the same opportunities as he did last year in a ball screen heavy offense. Hopefully, Bennett will incorporate more ball screens into the offense in upcoming games and will look to feed Huff in the post.

Hooz: Kody brings positional versatility. That can be a valuable off the bench. Ideally, I see him in a similar role as Evan Nolte had for some pretty good Wahoo teams. Maybe he doesn’t play in every game, or only gets a few minutes, but there’s a spot for a guy that can be plugged in at three positions. This won’t sound like a great compliment, but his best attribute might be that he rarely does any harm. He keeps the ball moving, doesn’t turn it over,, is a fairly reliable finisher, and a serviceable defender. As Bennett would say, he eliminates losing plays.

Zach: Because he knows the defense and has the length to be disruptive on that end while also providing capable handling on the other end. He’s not a high ceiling guy but Bennett knows what he’s getting and knows he can trust him to do what is asked.

Hooz: Appears to be the case at the moment. There’s only room for one backup true big man in the rotation, and Shedrick is ahead of Caffaro. I wrote a little on the subject in my Opening Week Reactions. While I do think Shedrick has passed the eye test so far, it’s not like he’s made a big impact yet. So I doubt anything is firmly settled. Caffaro did have some injury issues in the preseason that possibly set him back.

Another factor is that Kadin is a better fit in the new five-out offense. He’s a respectable shooter and comfortable handing the ball, whereas there’s no need to guard Caffaro away from the basket. In my opinion, Kadin has way more upside, and should be given the opportunity if it’s close. I do expect Caffaro will get his chances eventually. His physicality could be needed at times.

Zach:  I could go on for a while here, but there’s a number of different ways to approach playing against a smaller, quicker team. But, at the end of the day, this team is limited by its roster. Especially in the front court, it’s difficult to build a lineup that is capable of sticking with smaller and quicker lineups. Instead, the focus should be on taking advantage of the superior size we have. Specifically, it’s time to start feeding Jay Huff in the post. If he can be a force in there, then teams playing smaller lineups will either need to play their bigger guys or start over helping on defense which will open everything up

Hooz: Small lineups will continue to be a problem defensively this year. We want to play big with a jumbo wing at the 3-spot because that’s our best lineup. We need Huff, Hauser, and either Murphy or McKoy in the game at the same time. As Zach explains, the key is to exploit the size advantage on offense to make up for any defensive shortcomings. A mismatch should favor the offense, both ways.

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