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Virginia Men's Basketball

Mailbag: Tournament chances, Beekman’s breakout, reasons for optimism

The Virginia basketball team is halfway through their 30-game season, currently sitting with a 9-6 overall record (3-2 in conference play). Here are the answers to four fan questions from Twitter, and five more responses to questions from the Locker Room Access forums.

What is our path to the Tournament this year? What needs to change, what chips across the conference need to break our way, etc? @buckman08

Virginia’s path to the NCAA tournament looks more narrow every day. While the selection committee might be inclined to forgive Virginia for a blowout road loss to an elite Houston team and a one-point home loss to a good Iowa team, non-conference defeats at the hands of Navy and James Madison are hard to overcome, especially when the best win Virginia has so far is a neutral-site victory over a Providence squad that just lost to Marquette by 32.

However, the one thing keeping their slim chances alive is the general weakness of the ACC. I wrote this a week ago after Virginia’s victory at Clemson, and — while it doesn’t account for Miami’s recent ascension, capped by a upset victory over Duke — I think it still holds true:

“Aside from Duke, who looks head-and-shoulders better than everyone else in the league and will go as far as Paolo Banchero — cramps and all — can take them, there’s not an elite team in this conference. North Carolina has established themselves in the second tier with some solid wins after a shaky start.

“Beyond that, are there any tournament locks? There’s just a quagmire of mediocrity below those two squads, and I fear that the ACC is going to cannibalize itself due to a wealth of parity and lack of overall talent, with only one or two teams from the rest of the conference sneaking into the NCAAT and everyone else left without even an invitation to the dance.”

Virginia still has a shot to secure one of those ACC tickets to the dance behind Duke and UNC — the conference will receive at least three at-large bids on reputation alone. To do that, I think they have to finish third in the conference (which probably means going, at worst, 11-4 in the next 15 games of ACC play). They also have two games against Duke still on the schedule, and with precious few options for resume-builders left, I think the Hoos need to win one of those two games to secure an elite win. Virginia also needs the teams that have started ACC play on fire — Miami, Louisville, and Notre Dame — to cool down.

It’s an unlikely path, but that’s how Virginia can still make the NCAA tournament (well, that or winning the conference tournament). We’ll see if they can pull it off.  

Reece Beekman seems to be finding his shot as of late. How important is that for the program not just for this season but also as an emerging threat included with the dynamic recruits coming next year. @TremayneBlair

Reece has really taken a step forward as a scorer lately. He looks more confident in his three-pointer and has made a concerted effort to get downhill and finish around the rim — something he’s better at than almost anyone in the ACC. In his last four games, Beekman is averaging 10.8 points while shooting 67% on twos and 44% on threes.

Reece’s increased aggressiveness has also made playmaking easier for him. He has four or more assists in nine of the team’s last 10 games, and his performance from the high post against Syracuse was probably the best passing game of his career. While he only took two shots in 32 minutes, Reece absolutely carved up the Syracuse 2-3 from the inside out, creating good looks for the team on almost every possession. And he’s done it all while continuing to dominate the other end of the floor.

Beekman’s progress on the offensive end will really pay off when, as you noted, he’s playing with this stacked class of incoming recruits. While they assimilate to the UVA system, having a lead guard capable of getting to the basket, shooting the ball respectably, and creating good looks for his teammates will make the learning curve a bit less steep.

Reece also plays the style of basketball that I imagine the coaching staff wants to see from the incoming class. Dogged defense, looking for great shots over good ones, and a permanently calm demeanor are three traits that the team seems to value in the types of players they choose to recruit, and Reece exemplifies all three of those traits. As both an offensive lead guard and a role model within the program, Reece seems poised to help bridge the gap between this season and the next class of recruits.

Last year UVA seemingly moved away from the mover blocker offense into more of a 1-4 out drive & dish type offense. Do u think that’s a offense that should try to reinstitute with the current roster? @TremayneBlair

While I’m never opposed to adding more offensive wrinkles, I don’t think that style is really suited for the current roster. Running a spread offense like that requires decisive perimeter shooters who are willing to spot up and immediately let it fly or attack a closeout. Last year’s team had plenty of those guys (the best example is Trey Murphy). This year’s team really just has Taine Murray, and maybe Armaan Franklin, though Armaan is more comfortable shooting off the dribble and inside the arc.

As critical as I’ve been of the sides offense in the past, I think it’s starting to work for this team. Reece has really improved at attacking immediately when he catches the ball on the wing, and Armaan’s one-dribble off-screen pull-up game is well-suited for sides. If you’re looking for offensive wrinkles to add this year, I’d steal some of the actions Purdue runs to create Zach Edey post-ups, and start running those for Jayden Gardner.

I’d expect to see that spread offense a lot more in the years to come, though. Reece is well-suited to be the lead guard in a spread scheme, and some of the team’s incoming recruits fit the system well.  

Next wahoo to make their NBA debut? Could be a current senior or even someone that’s not yet on the team @br.dsgns

This is surprisingly hard to answer. If I’d received this question two weeks ago, I would’ve said Braxton Key, because I watched him play quite a bit for the Blue Coats (the G-League affiliate of my Sixers) and he’s NBA-caliber for sure. But then he got a 10-day from Philly and saw some playing time, so I guess I’ve got to think a little harder.

This has been a very Reece-heavy mailbag so far, but I think it’s him. I can see Reece getting minutes in the T.J. McConnell mold: playmaking point guard off the bench who can score a little bit and plays excellent defense on opposing guards. After the success of Gary Payton II this year, I can see more teams taking flyers on low-usage defensive-minded guards. And Reece’s defense is an NBA-level skill already.

From the Locker Room Access Forums

What have you seen this season that gives you optimism for next season?

I already wrote about Reece above, but his offensive growth is the most exciting thing I’ve seen. Here are three other trends I’m optimistic about:  

  1. Armaan Franklin’s struggles from three have overshadowed the fact that he’s improved as a scorer in every other area. He’s shooting 64% at the rim and 58% on midrange jumpers, after shooting 45% at the rim and 41% on midrange jumpers last season. If he can iron out the three-point shot (down to 22% from 42% last year), Franklin is going to be a deadly three-level scorer next year.
  2. Kadin Shedrick is an exceptional rim protector. He’s averaging 5.1 blocks per 40 minutes, and in conference play, that number increases to 5.5. Opponents shoot an absurdly low 46% at the rim with him on the court; when he exits the game, that number jumps to 55%. If he can stop exiting games early with foul trouble — an area where he’s made progress throughout the season — Shedrick will be a defensive anchor.
  3. Taine Murray looks more comfortable on offense than expected. Through 15 games, he’s shooting 50% from two and 42% from three. His spacing adds a whole new dynamic to the team’s offense. With Taine on the floor, 50.3% of Virginia’s shots are threes; with him out of the game, that number plummets to 30.6%. When teams close out on him, Taine is decisive attacking the basket. He doesn’t have that hesitancy to shoot that so many Virginia underclassmen sometimes do. The future is bright for Taine.

Over/under 2.5 different starting lineups on the year? And what’s the most likely change to the starting lineup?

Assuming that starting lineup changes due to injury don’t count, I’ll take the under. We’ve seen one starting lineup so far, and I expect to see at most one more. Maybe Tony tries Taine in the starting lineup if the team really needs to come out shooting threes, but I don’t see any other changes being made. As a bonus, here are the three alternate starting lineups I think we’re most likely to see:

Kihei-Reece-Taine-Jayden-Kadin

Kihei-Reece-Armaan-Taine-Kadin

Kihei-Reece-Armaan-Taine-Jayden (small ball, baby!)

When exactly did the game pass Tony by? Before or after Ty double dribbled?

If you ask me, the game passed Tony by in 2009. Virginia had a NINE-game conference losing streak! The gimmicky pack line defense might’ve worked at Washington State, but it’ll never win games in a real power conference like the ACC.

Did CTB ever really have it? Or was the Nati the 1 championship every 10 yr coach avgs?

Tony has only won one of the 11 national championship games played since Virginia hired him. That’s a winning percentage of just 9.1%. If he were Alabama’s football coach, the fans would be calling for him to be fired. They’d also be wondering why their AD hired a basketball coach to lead the football program.  

When will Fresh’s most games played without a start be broken from UVa mens hoops?

Sooner than you might think. The coaching staff is going to get so fed up with people on the Internet calling for Taine to start that they’ll make him a permanent sixth man. He’ll stay all four years — his senior year, he’ll play 39 minutes per game, subbing in at the first dead ball, but finish his career with 0 starts.

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