A few prognosticators, including myself, have the Wahoos outside the early top 25’s, here is why
When I spoke to Jeff Goodman last week on the ACCBR podcast, we spoke candidly about Virginia’s current state and agreed that it was surprising that some national media members had the Cavaliers in their top 25. Gary Parrish, for instance, currently has UVA at #8. Goodman has also recently moved them into his rankings at #24, but the questions remain.
Over the past week or so I have caught some flack for both, having Virginia outside my preseason rankings, and ranking their ACC/B1G challenge game with Purdue as the fourth best game on the slate.
So, I sat down and wrote up with the reasons why Virginia isn’t included in my rankings for all you Wahoos out there that love to give me shit.
The reason is quite simple. No team in the country lost more to the NBA draft than the Virginia Cavaliers. With the draft declarations of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter along with the graduation of Jack Salt and the transfer of Marco Anthony, Virginia lost 60% of its minutes played from last season. They lost 77% of their made 3pt FGs (247), 66% of their made free throws and 67% of their total points scored.
Those numbers don’t even take into account the “clutch” factor of the three players that went pro. Ty Jerome was a straight killer. Kyle Guy made two of the biggest triples in NCAA tournament history and De’Andre Hunter hit one of the biggest three point field goals in National Championship history. To have one of those guys move on in a huge deal, to have three is simply unheard of.
The Legend of Kihei Clark
Listen, if you follow ACCBR, you know, I was one of the first guys on the Kihei Clark train. I thought he fit beautifully in this system and especially alongside Virginia’s stars. That said, to point to this kid as if he is going to fill a tremendous part of the void left by the trio mentioned above, is beyond optimistic. Up until “the pass” most Virginia fans were actually quite low on Clark. For Example:
Now, as a part of a fairly insane fan base myself, I am certainly not foolish enough to think that a few comments represent an entire community. That said, Clark averaged 4.5 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds in roughly 27 minutes per game. In ACC games, he averaged 3.4 points, 2.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. He also shot 33.9% in ACC games.
Of course it’s not all bad. This kid values the basketball as if it were coated in gold and wrapped in Benjamins. On the season he averaged a turnover every 26.1 minutes played, which is absolutely incredible. Even with a usage rate as low as his, that is still a great number.
Clark also figured it out from deep as the season went along. After shooting 28.6% from deep in the out of conference slate, he shot 37% during conference play and continued during postseason play, shooting 36.4%.
As I said, I am a Clark fan, but to think he is going step in and be Ty Jerome, or even London Perrantes, is a HUGE ask and again, seems incredibly optimistic.
Freshman under Tony Bennett
Everyone wants to include the names Casey Morsell, Justin McKoy, Khadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro in their arguments as to why Virginia will be just fine. For the most part I agree, that is a very nice quartet of pieces that will no doubt eventually lead to more success for Tony Bennett.
Let’s take a look at the pieces individually.
Casey Morsell is typically considered the prize of this group and the most likely to have an immediate impact. He is a top 50’ish player in the 2019 class and is a perfect fit for the program. His game has a certain polish to it and he can shoot it. The fit is perfection.
Here is my question, do you think he is better than Malcolm Brogdon was as a freshman? Ty Jerome? Kyle Guy? Justin Anderson?
Brogdon was a late bloomer in the state of Georgia, but was ranked 94th in 2011. He played 22.4 mpg as a freshman and averaged 6.7 points per game. Ty Jerome, the #46 recruit in 2016, averaged 4.3 points in 14 mpg. Kyle Guy, a five star burger boy, 7.5 points in 19 minutes. How about Justin Anderson? #48 in 2012, averaged 7.6 points in 24 minutes as a frosh.
Here is my point and it’s not to bash Morsell. Tony Bennett isn’t a guy who brings in freshman to be focal points in his offense. Even Kyle Guy, who put on an absolute show during the 2016 McDonalds All American weekend, struggled to find minutes and figure it out defensively.
Francisco Caffaro is a very nice piece from Argentina who played very well in the international games. He’s coming off of leg surgery. He’s been back on the court since roughly February. Has played exactly zero minutes at the NCAA level. I am to believe he is going to be a difference maker immediately?
Khadin Shedrick is expected to play now, which probably isn’t great news for Caffaro, but he was a redshirt candidate from the moment he signed with Virginia.
Justin McKoy is a nice add and I think he will be a great piece down the road, but I don’t think he is an immediate impact guy. He is definitely a guy that Kevin Keatts may look back on in 3 years and say “well, shit.”
My point is, while this freshman class is talented, there have been far more talented players come in under Tony Bennett and struggled in his system. Hell, even Isaiah Wilkins said he didn’t understand the packline defense completely until his senior season.
Diakite The Scorer?
Last season, Mamadi Diakite was one of my “Breakout 8” selections. He is a player that I have always liked. His ability to protect the rim has been apparent his entire career as well as his ability to finish at the rim.
All of that said, is this system built for him to be the leading scorer and is he capable of doing so?
Diakite, the other end of Clark’s pass, certainly has skills, nobody denies that. However, not since Mike Scott (2011-12) has a big man/power forward/face-up type been the focal point of the offense under Tony Bennett. Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill were nice pieces as big men, but Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon were the focal points of those offenses.
It is speculated that Diakite will try to stretch his game out to the arc this year as well. Videos of him at draft workouts showed him working on just that. We saw this from Syracuse forward Oshae Brissett last season and it did not fare so well. For his career, Diakite is 8-28 from deep, good for 28.6%.
I have zero doubt Mamadi will improve on his career statistics of 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, but as the workload and minutes increase it is only logical to wonder about his efficiency as he becomes the focal point of the offense.
So those are the four biggest reasons I have in questioning this team and their upside. Now, last time Tony Bennett had a team with few offensive options, he won 23 games and won a tournament game, so who knows. But London Perrantes was amazing that season. I didn’t even address Braxton Key who is a career 30% shooter from deep on 220 attempts. He is a great bit player, but only averaged 14.5 minutes during postseason play last year.
This post is not meant to belittle the 2019-20 Virginia Cavaliers. I would definitely have them in that 25-30 range. It is only meant to illustrate the reasoning behind my choosing not to include them in my top 25. Plenty of you questioned it, quite rudely I might add, so here is your answer. Personally, I can’t just say “ah Tony is still the coach, they’ll be fine.” I don’t have that capability, I have to ask questions.
I did not bring up Jay Huff because I think there isn’t much to question there. Huff is a player I have been big on since he set foot on campus. He is going to score and his defense improved last season. He will have a great year. It’s the pieces around him I am not sure of.
Also, when ranking the ACC/B1G challenge games, don’t come at me with the “rematch” talk. It is not a rematch. Virginia is not the same team, which is illustrated here and neither is Purdue. The Boilermakers lost their two leading scorers from last years squad including a player who had one of the most impressive tournaments in its history. The fact is, Duke/Mich State, UNC/Ohio State, and Notre Dame/Maryland will all be better games featuring teams inside the top 20.