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Virginia Men's Basketball

Five Things I’m Watching

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

As the in-house recruiting guy here, I’m always paying close attention to how players are utilized with the impact on future roster building in mind. The season is a quiet time for recruiting activity, but there’s a little of that going on to talk about as well. That’s what this blog is about, the things I’m keeping an eye on as the season unfolds and on the recruiting front.

Roles Still Up for Grabs

Roles on this year’s team seem to have settled in, with the exception of two ongoing competitions. The guard spot next to Kihei Clark is still in flux with Casey Morsell, Reece Beekman, and Tomas Woldetensae all vying for minutes. Meanwhile in the frontcourt, Kadin Shedrick and Justin McKoy have yo-yoed in and out of a favor to spell Jay Huff.

During the non-conference slate, there was a fairly even split between the three guards. That’s changed since the conference opener against Notre Dame when Casey Morsell started and received as many minutes as the other two combined. While he didn’t shoot well, they outscored the Irish by 17 with him on the floor. With Casey out due to contact tracing, Reece Beekman has grabbed the opportunity. He’s played 37 minutes in each of the last two games, and was perhaps their best performer against Wake Forest. That’s left Tomas Woldetensae as the odd man out, averaging less than 10 minutes in conference play without a point scored.

The guard situation is reminiscent of the ’15-16 Elite Eight team when sophomores Devon Hall, Darius Thompson, and Marial Shayok all split time. Eventually Bennett inserted Hall into the starting lineup and stuck with him. While he wasn’t a big statistical factor that season, the move brought stability and proved to be a real turning point. All three guards are needed and will continue to get playing time, but I think Bennett is looking for the guy that best complements the A-lineup, essentially this year’s version of young Devon.

The frontcourt dilemma is less about the players than a choice between the pros and cons of big vs small lineups. Using Justin McKoy at center allows them to space the floor offensively, and switch on screens defensively. Kadin Shedrick brings needed rim protection and more of an interior scoring threat. As with the guards, there’s room for both. I don’t expect either to completely vanish from the rotation. But eventually, one will solidify the role as the backup to Jay Huff. Lately, it’s been a problematic area. Notre Dame outscored them by 7 without Huff on the floor, and Boston College did by 18.

Triangle Offense

A theme in the early season has been UVA trying different offensive sets. In the first two games, they went almost exclusively with a new spread read-and-react look, which has only been used sparingly since. The old blocker/mover reemerged as the go-to offense for a while. And then recently, this triangle set has been featured. Our analyst Zach Carey does a phenomenal job breaking all this stuff down in-depth for our VIP subscribers. Highly recommended.

The objective of everything that’s been tried is to create favorable situations for our best players. In limited sample size, the triangle seems to be an improvement. More shots are being taken by the players we want taking them, it’s that’s simple. Jay Huff and Sam Hauser in particular. Kihei Clark has so far thrived in it as well. Those are the three usual players in the “triangle”. It’s not a new idea. Bennett has used it on occasion for years. This is just the first time it’s been the primary set for a stretch of the season like this. Results will surely dictate if the trend continues.

This sort of thing is of particular interest to me with an eye toward the future. A stat that jumps out is Kihei Clark making 57% of his 2-point field goal attempts this season, up from 37% a year ago. Some of that is the soft schedule, and his individual improvement. But the schemes and personnel around him has made a big difference in the quality of attempts he gets inside the paint. The presence of Hauser and Murphy opens the lane. While I do think they want to get more athletic going forward, expect them to continue a focus on recruiting frontcourt players that are a threat from the perimeter like Isaac Traudt in the class of 2022.

Hoos on the Draft Board

ESPN recently released their very early 2022 NBA Mock Draft. Virginia’s Trey Murphy is projected as the 26th overall pick. Let me emphasize before anyone panics, that’s 2022, after Trey’s senior year. A mid-season mock for next year’s draft doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I thought it was worth pointing out. I’m not sure some UVA fans realize he’s considered that type of prospect. 6’9 athletes shooting nearly 50% from 3-point range are hard to find.

This is something the staff will need to monitor. The thing about mid-season projections is they can shift either way. If he finishes the season strong, there’s potential for his stock to rise to a similar position for 2021. I think his individual improvement and increased comfort level in the UVA system is maybe the biggest key to this team reaching it’s potential. Odds are, he’ll be back in a starring role next year too. They just need to be prepared on the off chance he’s not.

Transfer Target?

UVA contacted Houston transfer Caleb Mills. The sophomore guard was named preseason Player of the Year in the AAC after averaging 13ppg last season. There’s a long list of interested parties. North Carolina, NC State, and Florida State are some of the top contenders. Our side probably won’t get very far with him for a variety of reasons. For starters, there’s no scholarship available if he wants to enroll immediately.

Even if it’s a dead end, it’s noteworthy to keep in mind for this Spring. Bennett doesn’t go after transfers randomly. He mostly fills holes with them. This tells us they they expect to be in the market for a player like Caleb. He’s a bucket getter. That’s what he does. He’s very good at creating his own shot. I believe right now, someone like that and an experienced big man are the primary interests. Multiple frontcourt additions is possible. The coaching staff anticipates a busy late recruiting cycle. They will be extremely active pursuing transfers and available high school seniors.

Recruits in Action

Paul VI (VA) tipped their season off this weekend, featuring long time 2021 target Trevor Keels. He dominated like the All-American he’s considered. As for his recruitment, it’s status quo. He’s expected to wait until after the season to have a better idea of returning rosters. With Duke’s freshmen guards looking like they’ll be there a while, there’s a little more hope for UVA or Villanova than two months ago. The coaching staff is still very active with him.

St. Anne’s Belfield (VA) guard Justin Taylor and Poca (WV) guard Isaac McKneely are still the only recipients of UVA offers for the class of 2022. Their seasons haven’t started yet. It could be in jeopardy all together for McKneely after West Virginia pushed the start of Winter sports back to March.

Grand Island (NE) forward Isaac Traudt is having a monster junior season, averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds. He recently picked up another big offer from Kansas. Despite not having an offer yet, he seems to be a clear top target. Bennett has Zoomed with him twice now.

The other guy that seems to be in line as a priority 2022 recruit is point guard Austin Nunez. He’s caught up in an eligibility dispute after changing schools. In the meantime, he played for a Texas home-schooled team at a recent showcase event averaging 24 points over two games and hitting this game winner. UVA has also hosted him on two zoom calls now. Texas, Arkansas, Baylor, among others are heavily involved.

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