Virginia Men's Basketball

Mailbag: Projecting Starters, Backup PG, 2024 Recruits +More

(Matt Riley/UVA)

We’re in a nine-day long recruiting dead period staring today. What better time for a mailbag. I fielded a bunch of questions from folks on Twitter. Topics ranging from next season’s starting lineup, navigating the transfer portal, sophomore improvements, lots of recruiting of course, and more.

Who do think the starting lineup will be? @KeepingUpWithG8

It’ll be a new look Virginia team in 2023-24. They lost seven players to graduation or transfer.  It’s possible we’ll see an entirely different starting five from last season.  We’re still waiting to find out whether Reece Beekman will return.  He’s at the NBA Combine this week, and has until the May 31st withdrawal deadline to remove his name from the draft.   

Rising sophomores Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn both should have the inside track for starting jobs. Jordan Minor, the grad transfer from Merrimack, will most likely start at center.  I would guess St. Thomas transfer guard Andrew Rohde earns a spot.  And then of course, either Beekman or Dante Harris at point guard. 

One area of improvement from I-Mac and Dunn that would be most impactful next season. @guyncville

Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn both had a great first year.  They figured out their roles and for the most part stayed within that.  McKneely brought shooting, matching Kyle Guy’s freshman year total with 51 three-pointers.  And Dunn became the versatile defensive stopper in the frontcourt they needed. 

As those guys move into featured roles, I expect fans will learn they have more in their toolkits than they’ve shown.  McKneely is not just a shooter.  He can be a playmaker and a shot creator.  As for Dunn, look for him to emerge as a shooting threat.  He was hesitant at times last year, but he was always a good shooter in high school. 

In these time of the portal, in your opinion, what’s the most important factor that a program can control (ie NIL, playing time) in order to keep kids from transferring? @wshawver

Being as honest and as transparent as possible in recruiting is more important than ever.  Players, especially high school recruits, need to know what to expect coming in.  When reality doesn’t match expectations, transfers occur.  In today’s environment, you’re better off not getting a recruit if his expectations aren’t aligned with the coaching staff’s vision for him. 

There’s a lot of factors though.  Being careful with portal additions is important.  It’s a balancing act, as coaches have to be mindful to protect the opportunity for their young players.  And I think programs that overly depend on NIL in high school recruiting are setting a trap for themselves.  If that’s the main draw for a recruit, they’ll usually leave at the first chance to make more elsewhere. 

I think UVA has done pretty well at controlling the things they can control.  They’ve lost their share of transfers. But most of them were of the healthy variety.

For the pack line to work at an elite level, how critical is it for UVA to have a legitimate rim protector (e.g. Diakite, Huff, etc.)? I feel like that’s what we missed last year (one of several things). @klane1302

I think it’s incredibly important today, no matter the defensive scheme.  Everybody is moving toward small-ball, spreading the court.   With more space, it’s harder to defend drives.  You need help defenders that can challenge shots in the lane. 

There are examples to point to that show it’s not essential.  UVA’s 2013-14 team was one of the best, and without much of a shot blocking presence in the rotation. They had some terrific individual defenders, anchored by Akil Mitchell.  Ideally though, you want that eraser.  

Next season’s revamped frontline should feature plenty of rim protection.  Jordan Minor swatted 2.6 shots per game at Merrimack.  We’ll see how that translates in the ACC, but it’s a big part of his game.  Ryan Dunn has proven he can provide resistance at the rim.  And incoming freshman Blake Buchanan will help in that category too.  

What’s the ceiling for this team this upcoming year cause I predict this will be another 4-6 seed at the tournament given the talent level is deep at the top of all of college ball. @HoozDefense

Obviously, we still have a big unanswered question with Reece Beekman.  That’s a pretty substantial factor before making predictions. And as we’ve learned the past couple years, how the ACC fares in non-conference games goes a long way in determining the range of potential NCAA Tournament seeds available. 

I love the group they’ve put together, especially the core of young talent.  We’ll have eight players next season with 3+ years of eligibility left.  It should be a fun year watching them grow.  I do worry about early season cohesion with so many new faces.  They need to avoid the type of bad losses that puts them in an early hole. 

If Beekman returns, I expect them to be in the upper tier of the ACC.  And even if he doesn’t, I think they can be a dangerous team by the end of the season.  It won’t be as experienced of a group,  and with that probably comes inconsistency.  But I think they’ll have more upside in the postseason where talent tends to win out.  

It would appear to me that having great shooters is the recipe for success in Tony Bennett’s offensive system. Why haven’t UVa been able to recruit three point shooters? Did they capitalize in recruiting enough after the national championship? @Bryan_10s

Having great shooters is pretty much a prerequisite for any college team to be achieve the highest level of success today. I would argue shot creation is just as important, and has been an even weaker area for Virginia the past couple seasons.  But they definitely have not had nearly the wealth of knockdown shooters as some other Bennett teams either.  

They’ve had a much easier time recruiting in recent years. The two classes in 2019 and 2020, that were supposed to be upperclassmen this past year, were so easily assembled that it was almost boring to cover. They had the three-man 2020 class committed before July, the earliest ever under Bennett.  

The problem is key guard recruits in that group didn’t pan out, at least not at UVA.  Casey Morsell had a horrible adjustment to college before transferring to NC State, where he eventually became the shot maker he was recruited as. Jabri Abdur-Rahim didn’t live up to his billing.  And Carson McCorkle was a priority recruit brought in almost entirely for his shooting. 

College basketball recruiting isn’t as much about getting the players you want as it is about wanting the right players.  Evaluation is everything.  Bennett’s track record of picking winners is kind of incredible really, but he isn’t perfect.

Assuming that Reece is gone, and Harris is the starting PG, who will get more minutes behind Harris at the point? Rohde or Gertrude? @CamCWood

I’m not making the assumption that Reece is gone.  As Bennett said this week, it’s going to go down to the wire.  But it’s an interesting scenario that we may have to deal with. 

The most likely answer is that it would start off in a committee at the beginning of the season.  Rohde, McKneely, and possibly Gertrude each would get occasional chances to run the point.  I think Rohde is the best bet of the group.  He shared point guard duties at St. Thomas, so he at least has that experience at the college level. 

Is the Tony Bennett pack line going to get updated (watered down) given how many one-year rentals are coming through our program? Player movement is likely to keep increasing too. @buckman08

I can’t imagine it will.  That’s so much a part of his basketball identity.  We’ve seen tweaks sometimes, particularly when they haven’t had the most athletic forwards to hard hedge and all that.  But just little things, and not necessarily new developments.  

Personally, I think this idea that Bennett’s defensive scheme is hard to learn is somewhat exaggerated.  There are different principles for players to adjust to.  And all the hedging and doubling is a bit quirky.  But I believe it’s the effort he demands that’s the hardest adjustment, playing continuously as he would say.

Update on replacing departed coaches @misguidedsoul7

Virginia assistant coach Kyle Getter recently left to become the Associate Head Coach at Notre Dame.  They’re searching for his replacement.  And there could be other staff additions in the near future.  

I honestly don’t know much about it.  The rumor mill is quiet.  I expect we’ll get a new recruiting assistant to fill Getter’s shoes relatively soon, probably before coaches go out again in mid-June.  

The NCAA is also allowing for two new assistant coaches in non-recruiting roles, starting in July.   Current members of the support staff will probably be promoted into those positions.  Which would open up staff jobs for new hires if Bennett chooses.  One cool aspect is it will likely result in current graduate assistant Isaiah Wilkins moving into a full-time role.

Who is most likely to redshirt this season? @tbrown1216

Late signee Anthony Robinson is a good bet to redshirt next season.  Virignia picked up the big man out of Christ School (NC) in late April after he had reopened his recruitment from a previous commitment to South Florida. 

These things are never decided for sure until just before the season starts.  Robinson could surprise and end up playing right away.  Or injuries could force him into action.  But the tentative plan is for him to redshirt.  

They’re counting on the other incoming freshmen to contribute.  Blake Buchanan is in line to be the backup center.  And Elijah Gertrude is still recovering from knee surgery, but should be back to full activity by the end of summer.

Does the coaching staff think that Bond can play 3 this year or in the future? How do they view him in comparison to Abraham? @DavidBa19684265

I won’t claim to speak for the coaching staff.  To me, Leon Bond is a true combo forward who can and will be used as either a 3 or 4.  He’s more of a modern forward, meaning best utilized as a small-ball four.  His offensive package is in line with that role. And I think long term that will be his primary role.  But yeah, I absolutely expect him to be used occasionally at guard throughout his career.  

2024 Paul VI (VA) wing Isaiah Abraham is more of a true guard.  More advanced perimeter skillset than Bond had in high school.  He’s a very good athlete but not on Leon’s elite level defensively.  

Leon is sort of the modern equivalent of Akil Mitchell, or that’s the vision.  Whereas Abraham would be closer to Justin Anderson

Will Buchanan have a larger or smaller role than Dunn did last year? If you had to call your shot, who is the next commit and when will they announce? @BeekMode

Ryan Dunn averaged 13 minutes per game last season.  That seems pretty close to what we should expect for Blake Buchanan.  I’ll take the under just because I don’t think there’s as much game to game upside in Blake’s role.  As long as Jordan Minor stays healthy, he figures to get the bulk of minutes at center.  

The next commit will be in the 2024 class.  If forced to make a guess right now, I’d have to go with Isaiah Abraham.  In which case, it would be around late June.  But it’s far from a sure thing that UVA will get anyone with a current offer.

2024 recruiting. Where do we stand with Jarin and other top targets, and when can we expect any decisions to be made? @Aaron_Barham

Seaforth (NC) forward Jarin Stevenson is planning to decide in early to mid June whether he’ll reclassify.  Virginia’s chances are better if he decides to stay in the 2024 class.   They probably aren’t that great at this point either way though. 

UVA is playing catch up to Villanova for George School (PA) point guard Christian Bliss.  The hope is to get him back for a visit next month.  They also want Isaiah Abraham to visit again this Summer.  He just took his first official to Marquette, his dad’s alma mater.  

And Wisconsin Lutheran wing Kon Knueppel rounds out the list of priority recruits.  He came for his official visit in February.  UVA is mostly battling with the in-state schools, Wisconsin and Marquette.  But there will probably be other high-profile programs involved before it’s over.  

Any or all of them could come off the board by early Summer.  There will be new targets after coaches go back out for evaluation weekends starting in mid-June.  But if there’s going to be a commit before July, it’ll come from the group of four above

(Featured Image Credit: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)

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