The Virginia fans have been clamoring for it, but is 2019-20 finally the season that Jay Huff will be unleashed? Power on this season’s iteration of the Hoos has shifted from a backcourt with Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome to a front court featuring RS fourth year Mamadi Diakite, RS first year Francisco Caffaro, and Huff.
Huff, now a redshirt third year, has had a full offseason to workout and get stronger. After the loss to UMBC to end the 2017-18 season — a game Huff was unavailable for due to injury — the 7’1 center had to get surgery on his shoulder. That delayed workouts and training, leaving him a little behind the power curve entering last season.
Now up to 243 pounds, an increase of 11 pounds since last season, Huff has had an opportunity to fully train and workout.
“It’s been really good,” Huff said of the offseason, “It’s just gotten me more excited for the year. Last season it was rehab so it was like, ‘ugh I gotta go do this again’, so that was kind of my offseason preparation. This year, I was in the gym working, and that was a lot of fun.”
Depending how Tony Bennett decides to use his players, you could see Huff starting alongside Diakite in the front court. If he’s not starting (think a lineup of Clark, Morsell, Woldetensae, Key, Diakite), then you can expect to see him come off the bench early. With the duo of Diakite and Huff backed by Caffaro, the likelihood of seeing Braxton Key as a “three” is much higher, however.
Last season, Huff averaged 9.4 minutes, 4.4 points, and 2.1 rebounds per game and saw action in 34 of the 38 games. His minutes increased down the stretch, but he saw limited time in the NCAA tournament, including no action in the national semifinal against Auburn. His best postseason performance came against Oklahoma, where he put up five points and grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes of action.
Although he didn’t play a ton of minutes over the course of the season, his usage rates were high when he was in as his %Poss. per KenPom was fourth behind the Big Three.
The majority of Huff’s strengths are on the offensive side of the court. He’s a more-than-competent three-point shooter, going 14-for-31 (45.2%) on the season. Being a threat from three means teams have to respect that aspect of his game, giving him an opening to pump-fake and drive to the hoop for a dunk.
From two, he shot 67.7% on the season, and a team-best (among those with nine minutes per game or more) 60.4% from the field. Huff takes high-percentage shots, and makes them.
His ability to stretch the defense cannot be understated, and pulling a defender out of the lane is helpful to the other players on the court. Last season, Bennett added in more of the Continuity Ball-Screen offense in with the Mover-Blocker offense, and Huff flourished in it.
Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision laid out Huff’s fit in the Continuity Ball-Screen offense here:
Jay Huff averaged just 4 PPG last season and barely played during UVA's tournament run. Why the 7-footer is a perfect fit for their Continuity Ball Screen offense (and solid NBA prospect) regardless— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) September 30, 2019
(sound on ) pic.twitter.com/99FtExWhj2
Defense, defense, defense. Huff is a talented blocker, putting out a 10.5% block rate last season (per KenPom), but his defense as part of the Pack Line has to improve. His struggles on that end of the court are what kept him on the bench (to the chagrin of the fans), but that’s a non-negotiable for Bennett-led teams.
At the 2:42 mark of these highlights from the National Championship game, you can see one of his game’s biggest flaws in action: pick and roll defense.
Jack Salt was one of the best at timing his hedges and getting back to his man, and having Huff be able to emulate the graduated big man on that end of the court is a solid goal.
One of Huff’s other weaknesses could be solved this season by having a full offseason to bulk up and get stronger. Virginia hasn’t had a strong post-up game since probably Anthony Gill, but it’s potentially something both Huff and Diakite (if not Caffaro) could provide this season.
Finally, Huff’s fouling was an issue in 2018-19, averaging 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes of play. To be fair, if you know you’re not getting significant minutes, there’s maybe not as much of a concern regarding fouling out, but it’s also an indicator he had to recover from bad defensive positioning at times.
Best 2018-19 Game
Huff reached double-digit scoring in four games on the season, but his most impressive performance came on the road against Louisville. Virginia trailed by as many as 12 in the first half and by 10 at the break, but Huff had 10 first half points as the Cavaliers tried to keep things from getting out of hand. The Hoos would go on to mount a second-half comeback and win by 12.
On the game, he had 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. The wrinkle of throwing Huff in on offense was a great move from Bennett, and Kihei Clark played well alongside the big man with well-timed passes and alley-oops.
Best 2018-19 Play
You can’t make me pick one dunk, so you can see a lot of them in this sweet compilation:
Year: Redshirt Junior
2017-18 PPG: 4.4
2017-18 RPG: 2.1
Nickname: The Hoonicorn, Huff the Magic Dragon
Non-basketball skill: Interviewing