With UVA football sitting at 2-4 and looking like one of the if not the worst teams in the ACC, we’re going to shift away from football this week to focus on the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball team as Tony Bennett’s squad is officially less than a month from kicking of its 2022-2023 season. First up, we’re taking a look at the team’s entire roster and how the returning players and the new faces will fit together in the rotation.
Here’s a quick look at a rough projected depth chart for the ‘Hoos heading into the season:
UVA Basketball 2022-2023 Depth Chart
|Point Guard||Shooting guard||Small forward||Power forward||Center|
|Point Guard||Shooting guard||Small forward||Power forward||Center|
|R. Beekman||K. Clark||A. Franklin||J. Gardner||K. Shedrick|
|I. McKneely||T. Murray||B. Van der Plas||F. Caffaro|
|R. Dunn||L. Bond||I. Traudt|
Obviously Clark and Beekman will share the point guard duties with each able to play lead guard when the other isn’t on the floor. Then, beyond that, really the only important positional differentiations are between the three guard spots and the two front-court spots. For instance, McKneely could play small forward just as well as shooting guard because of this team’s typical mover-blocker system which delineates three guards that play on the perimeter and two bigs who play on the inside.
The projected starting lineup
With UVA returning all but Kody Stattmann from last season’s rotation, the starting lineup should begin the season just how last year’s finished with Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, and Kadin Shedrick the first five on the floor for Tony Bennett’s squad.
Now in his third season in Charlottesville, Beekman should be the leader of this team on either end of the floor. He’ll enter the year projected as the best defender in the ACC and, with expected development offensively as he starts to be more aggressive hunting his own looks, should start to flourish more on the other side of the ball as well. He’s always been a savvy lead guard with the ability to involve his teammates as a playmaker. Now, he needs to take more of the onus as a scorer while hopefully being able to even more effectively utilize his skills as a distributor with better shooting on the 2022-2023 roster.
Clark fits in next to Beekman as the most veteran player on this squad. He’s back for his fifth season in what will likely be an additionally lessened role as his younger teammate continues to seize the reins of the offense and the team as a whole. Clark’s presence is still incredibly valuable for this team and having him as a known quantity as an improved shooter, occasional playmaker, and defensive pest will, as it has always been, a decisive intangible for this team.
Of course, another season in Charlottesville with young players filtering in should mean that Clark’s role and volume of offensive responsibility should shrink to make way for the up and comers. But, at the end of the day, he’s still a critical component of this team.
Retaining the third guard spot, former Indiana transfer to Armaan Franklin enters his second year in Charlottesville with hopes of establishing far more consistency, particularly from beyond the three-point line. A career 32.3% shooter from deep who shot 29.6% last season on 5.1 attempts per contest, Franklin was an incredibly streaky shooter in the 2021-2022 season and has spent time training with former Wahoo Justin Anderson this offseason as he looks to be a more reliable catch and shoot option on the perimeter. If he isn’t, there are a few younger guys who could challenge him for minutes so he won’t have the same leash he did last season.
UVA’s leading scorer and best player last year, Jayden Gardner returns for his fifth year of college basketball and second year with the ‘Hoos primed to pick up where he left off. An absolute bucket from the midrange and when finishing inside, Gardner scored 15.3 points per game for Virginia last season and — most importantly — grew both as an individual defender and as a piece of the greater puzzle in the Packline defense.
His physical limitations do lower his ceiling as a defender, but he’s proven himself a capable cog and occasional lockdown defender against the right opponent. Similar to Clark, the team’s reliance on him offensively will likely decrease with the continued development of his younger teammates. But he should still be the team’s leading scorer and will be critical to its success.
The fifth likely starter for the Wahoos this season will be Kadin Shedrick at center. While he basically split starts with Francisco Caffaro last season, Shedrick is the player with more potential and a breakout third year for the North Carolina native is absolutely on the table, especially after he played so well in the team’s trip to Italy.
If Shedrick can establish the midrange jumper he’s committed to developing this offseason, limit the foul trouble which plagued him last year, and be more consistent as a finisher when passed the ball on the interior, he could wreak absolute havoc for the ‘Hoos. He’s already a very good shot blocker and could be a lockdown defender of opposing bigs. Incorporate a growing offensive game, and you’ve got a player set up to explode in his fourth year (after two active seasons and one redshirt) in Charlottesville — which is typically when Wahoo bigs come out of their cocoons.
With those five set to start, UVA’s almost-guaranteed sixth man for this upcoming season should be Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas. A versatile offensive weapon, Vander Plas will provide Tony Bennett and staff more lineup versatility than the team had last season. He’s a legitimate playmaker as a 6’8” forward. He’s got range from deep, isn’t afraid to let it fly, and should add a new element to the Virginia offense as he can spread the floor both as an off-ball option or as the screener in the pick and roll. Vander Plas is going to force opposing defenses to adjust to him when he enters the game, and that will be meaningful for an offense that struggled to find multiple ways to attack an opponents last season.
Granted, how Vander Plas fits into the rotation positionally is still a slight unknown especially considering that UVA’s best player last season — Jayden Gardner — plays Vander Plas’ preferred position at power forward. I’ll address what that means for UVA’s lineups in another story this week, but how Bennett gets BVP on the floor consistently should determine to what extent the Wisconsin native can help this team win.
After Vander Plas, Francisco Caffaro is likely the next most known quantity for the ‘Hoos. He had an underrated 2021-2022 season as he was far improved defensively, provided good physicality on the inside, and even added a scoring punch in the low post at times. The Argentinian will probably lose out on minutes with Shedrick’s rise and the arrival of Vander Plas, but he provides stability off the bench should the front-court be dealing with foul trouble and can play heavy minutes against certain opponents that require more physicality on the boards.
The final remaining returner on scholarship is sophomore Kiwi Taine Murray. A 6’5” guard best suited for a “three and D,” type role, the New Zealand native was UVA’s eighth man just outside of the seven man rotation in 2021-2022. When he did get minutes, they were typically as a small ball four since the staff didn’t appear to be comfortable with him playing and handling on the perimeter.
That said, his physicality and footwork defensively were impressive especially when guarding bigger guys and he added a stretch-four element to the offense which the team lacked as he hit 34.8% (8-23) of his three-balls. He’s got a pure deep ball which can, at times, actually be oddly ineffective. But if Murray does better taking care of the ball and can hit from three, there’s no reason he can’t be a part of this team’s rotation.
Now we get to the incoming freshmen. Starting with the player with the best shot at cracking the rotation, Isaac McKneely could be exactly the player this team needs among its backcourt depth. With experience in the Packline and Mover Blocker schemes which are the basis of UVA’s system, McKneely also boasts a D-I ready frame. He brings elite three-point shooting, serious bounce and athleticism, and a scoring ability which might not be on full display in year one, but very well could be. If somebody like Franklin or Clark isn’t performing, McKneely could very well seize minutes from them similar to how Kyle Guy did in the 2016-2017 season from Darius Thompson and Maryol Shayok.
The next freshman with a real shot at playing time this year is McKneely’s fellow Isaac and roommate, Isaac Traudt. A 6’10” forward who can hit from a few feet beyond the three-point line, has playmaking skills on the perimeter, and is be deadly in the pick and roll, the Nebraska native will need to answer questions regarding how he fairs defensively and how consistently he can perform on either end of the floor. He has good hands defensively and averaged a surprising 2.3 steals per game in his three contests during UVA’s Italy trip.
That said, the learning curve for Wahoo bigs is steep so his footwork and quickness will be put to the test and should determine how much time he gets in his first year. Of course, he also enters the season with four upperclassmen ahead of him on the front-court depth chart, so he’s got a bit more a of a hill to climb that McKneely does.
That leaves us with the two real outsiders for getting meaningful time this season: Ryan Dunn and Leon Bond. The two freshman wings come to Charlottesville in fairly similar boats.
Starting with the 6’5” forward Bond, the rough plan when he originally committed was to redshirt his first season. It doesn’t look like that has been set in stone quite yet, but either way his path to minutes is a tough one. He doesn’t quite have the perimeter skills to play as a mover, so he’s stuck behind five guys in the front courts including two forwards in Vander Plas and Gardner who will gobble up the minutes at the four.
That shouldn’t discount Bond’s potential nor his skill set, though. He’s going to be phenomenal defensively with incredibly length, footwork, and IQ. He’s also got a nice jump shot as he’s expanding his range out beyond the three-point line and could be an effective slasher for the ‘Hoos once he gets comfortable. It’s not out of the question that Bond could play his way into the rotation this season especially if older players struggle. But it’s unlikely.
The player with arguably the highest ceiling of the 2022 class, Ryan Dunn is going to special in the long run, particularly offensively. He’s coming off a lower leg (foot, I believe) injury from the end of his senior year which stunted his offseason a bit. Dunn is still a slightly raw prospect, particularly with his handle and with regard taking care of the ball.
But oh my goodness this kid could be so special. He’s got a skill set that could project him as an absolute bucket-getter wing and, at 6’8”, he’s got great length and hops. This poster from the first Italy game is evidence enough of that:
He is still a bit slim, so that plus some of the clunkiness of his game probably means he doesn’t get real opportunities this season and that he could maybe redshirt. But if he found a way to breakthrough for this team, it would be something to behold.
That’s it for our roster and rotation breakdown for the ‘Hoos. Keep an eye out for more preseason basketball content on Streaking the Lawn this week. We’ve got a bball mailbag podcast coming out later today with additional analysis stories going up as the week progresses.