With mere hours remaining before the Virginia Cavaliers tipoff their 2021-2022 basketball season, we’ve gathered a whopping 22 exciting storylines to track for this team throughout the season.
After a season of empty or near empty stadiums and arenas, it will be a welcome relief to see full crowds in college basketball this season. Basketball isn’t the same without the presence of fans and the ‘Hoos will be incredibly grateful to have their fans back in JPJ.
Two legit transfers making an immediate difference
The arrivals of ECU transfer Jayden Gardner and former Indiana Hoosier Armaan Franklin will immediately bolster this roster and provide plenty of experience and playmaking ability which are qualities the ‘Hoos lost a lot of in the departures of Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, and Jay Huff. Each has their limitations, but Franklin and Gardner should prove to be two of the most important players on this team.
New opportunities for returning players
With only ten designated scholarship players on this team, there will be plenty of opportunities for each guy on this roster. For guys like Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Caffaro, Carson McCorkle, and Kody Stattmann — who have all dealt with injuries and have struggled to get minutes on stacked teams — this season will be their best chance yet to truly establish themselves in this program.
Two intriguing first years
In Igor Milicic Jr. and Taine Murray, the ‘Hoos have a pair of freshmen who have high ceilings offensively and could prove to be crucial cogs in the Virginia rotation this season. Frankly, the program can’t afford to have either of them redshirt this season so we should see plenty of each of them, at least early in the season.
Kihei Clark’s final (?) run
Love him or hate him, Kihei Clark is one of the most successful players in Virginia basketball history. Heading into his fourth season, he’s got a chance to further cement himself in the record books and make one more run with a very new roster. Of course, there have been rumblings of Clark staying in Charlottesville for a fifth season and use his Covid-19 extra year of eligibility. So, who really knows how Clark is approaching this year.
Reece Beekman’s second season
In contrast to Clark, Reece Beekman is just getting going in his career as a Wahoo and is primed for a breakout second season in the (little bit of) orange and blue.
More of a post presence
In Gardner, Shedrick, and perhaps in Caffaro, UVA has a front court that will merit plenty of post touches which hasn’t been the case for this program in more than half a decade since guys like Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Mike Scott, and Akil Mitchell went to work in the low block.
Hard hedging is (probably) back in earnest!
In Shedrick and potentially in Caffaro, Virginia has bigs who should be very capable in playing the hard hedge ball screen coverage that is synonymous with the pack line defense but that was largely abandoned last season considering that team’s personnel.
An early test against Houston
In just the third game of the season, the Wahoos will head down to Houston for a stern test against the 15th ranked Houston Cougars which will be a great tool to measure where this team is in mid-November.
A fall tournament in Newark, New Jersey
While these tournaments around Thanksgiving are typically an opportunity for teams to travel somewhere warmer and stay in some pristine resort, this year the ‘Hoos will be headed to Newark, New Jersey to play in the Legends Classic with a game against Georgia and then either Northwestern or Providence. Virginia should be favored to come out on top in Newark.
Matchups against former ‘Hoos
As a result of reformed transfer rules allowing immediate eligibility and making in-conference transferring more acceptable, Virginia will face a whopping three players who were a part of the program not eight months ago. With Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Georgia meeting up against the ‘Hoos in the Legends Classic in late November, Justin McKoy and the North Carolina Tar Heels hosting the ‘Hoos in the Dean Dome on January eighth, and Casey Morsell and the N.C. State Wolfpack welcoming Virginia to Raleigh on January 22nd, there’s plenty of potential for drama.
A brutal road stretch to start ACC play
Outside of two ACC contests in December before Virginia’s brief winter break, the ‘Hoos open conference play in earnest with three consecutive road games against Syracuse, Clemson, and North Carolina. Safe to say, we’ll have early indications as to whether or not this team is an ACC contender.
One more trip to Cameron against K
As Mike Kryzewski is set to retire at the end of this season, Tony Bennett and his Wahoos will have one more chance to beat Coach K in Cameron Indoor, something that Bennett has only done once in his tenure in Charlottesville. Boy oh boy would it be sweet to beat Kyrzewski one more time in Cameron.
One more time hosting Coach K
In the same vein, as UVA is set to play Duke twice this season, the Wahoos will also get a final opportunity to beat a Coach K led Duke team on February 23rd in JPJ. Considering the lack of success the program has had against Duke in the last decade — especially relative to the tremendous success the ‘Hoos have had against every other ACC team — it would be disappointing not to get at least one more win over Kryzewski before he puts his feet up.
The regular season finale in Virginia’s home away from home
With senior night coming against FSU in the second to last game of the season, UVA will head to Kentucky to play Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center where the program has had a ridiculous amount of success — most notably in the Elite Eight and the Sweet Sixteen back in 2019. Of course, the ‘Hoos are also 5-1 against the Cardinals in their last six contests in Louisville.
Unlike last year’s team, this UVA squad doesn’t enter the season getting National Championship, Final Four quality hype. This is a good team, but there are far too many unknowns for expectations to be all that exact. In many ways, that’s relieving for coaches, players, and even fans as it’s easier to enjoy the season game by game and to watch this team develop.
Another Tony Bennett masterclass in building a team
Speaking of development, like the last two seasons, this will be a team that Tony Bennett and his staff will need to build from the ground up. With so many new pieces who are unfamiliar to both the system and each other, it will take time. But, if anything is certain, it’s that Bennett knows how to get his teams performing to their highest potential come the end of the season. And it’s a joy to watch.
Shot clock violations in a raucous JPJ
With fans back in JPJ will come the glorious cheering and applause that meets each and every shot clock violation that Virginia forces. It was such a shame that the pack line defense couldn’t feed off the crowd last season, so it’s going to be that much more satisfying when the shot clock is winding down on opponents this year.
A stout defensive backcourt
With Reece Beekman developing into a shutdown defender in the backcourt, Kihei Clark being the pest he’s always been, and Armaan Franklin providing additional size, length, and experience, this backcourt may be one of Bennett’s best on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, there are question marks for these three offensively. But, in the pack line, they should be sound.
More/improved shooting in the backcourt
Whereas the guards largely struggled to shoot from deep last season, Armaan Franklin will provide much needed floor spacing in the backcourt this season while both Murray and McCorkle could off the bench as well. That said, both Clark and Beekman have put in a great deal of work into their shooting this offseason and should be improved from last year when they combined to shoot 29.2% from behind the arc.
Potential further evidence of UVA’s success with foreign players
Considering that four — Kody Stattmann, Francisco Caffaro, Taine Murray, and Igor Milicic Jr. — of UVA’s ten scholarship players this season come from overseas and each should be able to establish themselves, there’s an opportunity for Virginia to further cement itself as a program that can bring in, develop, and succeed with players from outside the United States.
A stacked 2022 recruiting class
So, sure, UVA’s incredibly exciting 2022 recruiting class won’t hit the floor until next fall. But, should this season turn into a disappointment (which, granted, is unlikely), there’s plenty to look forward to in the program’s immediate future. In other words, there’s no need to panic if Virginia doesn’t win the ACC and drops more than three games this season.