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The Big Basketball Preview: Navy at Virginia

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Ohio at Virginia IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball season is finally here as the Virginia Cavaliers open the season hosting Navy at John Paul Jones Arena. With a disappointing loss to Ohio to end a strange pandemic season last year, Virginia fans are certainly excited to see them back on the court, even if it means that Tuesday’s 9pm tipoff will start with more unknowns than anything else, especially with how much of last year’s squad has left.

But to begin, fans will finally get their first glimpse of transfers Armaan Franklin and Jaylen Gardner in Virginia uniforms.

This is Franklin knocking down a game winner against Iowa, Virginia’s opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Championship. Look how he uses his body to create some space and then flows into the step-back jumper. Very smooth jumper. Virginia fans are going to like Franklin. He’s a lockdown defender too, and is coming from a Pack Line defense at Indiana, so the defensive learning curve will be short for him.

There’s a lot of unknowns about this team, which explains why they’re 25th in the AP poll, but just 45th on KenPom and 67th on Bartovik. Can Franklin and Gardner pick up the Pack Line quick enough to make the defense up to Tony’s standards? Can some of the young wings, such as Carson McCorckle and Taine Murray, carve out a role providing offense off the bench? How much can Kody Stattmann and Kadin Shadrick provide, coming off a season mostly loss to illnesses?

Opening against Navy has its pluses and minuses. The Midshipmen do not have the talent level that Virginia has, although they are coming off a 15-3 record, including 12-1 in the Patriot League. They actually won the Patriot League regular season, but lost to Loyola in the first round of the league tournament. They had previously beaten Loyola three times already. They lost by 30 to Maryland, but knocked off Georgetown on the road.

The Midshipmen must replace Cam Davis, their leading scorer, assist man and thief. However, they return eight other guys who averaged double-figure minutes last season. That is led by senior John Carter Jr, who finished second on the team in scoring, assists and tied for first in steals. This year, Navy likely goes as far as Carter can take them.

As you can see, Carter doesn’t need a lot of space and he can knock down shots. Over 60% of his shots came from downtown, though he made just 32%. That dragged his FG% to under 40% for the season. Carter will likely see time at both guard positions, with Austin Inge and Jaylen Walker also seeing time at PG. That means both Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman will get shots at guarding the 6’3” Carter.

The Midshipmen have two freshmen bigs, 6’9” Michael Fischer and 6’10” Jaime Hernandez. Will either of them see any playing time? We can’t know. But of the returning players, 6’7” Richard Njoku is the only true big.

This is a secondary break, with Njoku making space down low. He’s not tall, but he’s strong and very tough to stop inside.

The most interesting part of this game, for Virginia fans, will be to see how Tony Bennett handles the frontcourt rotation against a team with little size. If Navy continues with 6’6” Tyler Nelson at the four, Tony could counter with 6’8” Kody Stattmann at the four and Jaylen Gardner at the five. Gardner may be a better matchup against Njoku than either of Virginia’s traditional “fives”. We’ll almost definitely see Kadin Shedrick start at center, but we may see Tony try out some small-ball lineups.

At the four, Navy tends to play Daniel Deaver, Patrick Dorsey and Tyler Nelson. All are perimeter players.

This is Dorsey as a late comer to the offense. He really isn’t picked up by the defender, which gives him freedom to step into the open look at the top of the key and knock it down. Whoever is playing the four for the Hoos will have to step out and defend the perimeter.

One more key player for Navy is Greg Summers. The 6’4” wing actually led the Midshipmen in rebounding. He also gets to the line a ton, though he doesn’t shoot the ball well. He was just 1/14 from downtown last season and a 68% free throw shooter. It’ll be a good test for Franklin in his first action as a Wahoo.

All-time the Midshipmen are 31-15 against the Hoos, although most of those games took place in a different era of college basketball. These two teams have only played twice since 1974, and Navy hasn’t won since 1967. Virginia has won eight in a row, including a 65-56 win two years ago.