Five new players will suit up for the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball team this season: graduate transfer Ben Vander Plas and freshmen Isaac McKneely, Isaac Traudt, Ryan Dunn, and Leon Bond. From major contributors to redshirts, each will have a distinct role to play on this iteration of the Cavaliers; this piece takes a look at how each player will fit into the roster in order of largest to smallest expected role.
Ben Vander Plas
A graduate transfer from Ohio, Virginia fans may remember Vander Plas for his 17-point NCAA tournament performance against the ‘Hoos in 2021. Nicknamed “BVP,” the stretch four brings shooting and size to a Virginia squad desperately seeking both traits.
In the absence of star guard Jason Preston last year, Vander Plas became one of the focal points of Ohio’s offense and averaged 14.3 points per game. Crucially, he knocked down 33.8% of his 5.7 attempts from three per game; Virginia shot just 32.3% from three as a team last year, and didn’t have a player attempt more than 5.1 threes per game.
To be fair, 33.8% isn’t exactly an elite clip — that’s the same percentage Reece Beekman, whose shooting has been harped upon as an area for improvement, knocked down in 2021-22. However, the types of shots Vander Plas will take are equally valuable to his ability to make them. Potential freshman sharpshooters aside, BVP will be the most willing three-point shooter on the court for the Cavaliers. He’s willing to let it fly from well beyond the arc and shoot off the dribble.
I'm very interested to see the role Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas plays for Virginia this season. He made 33.8% of his threes last year, but that number undersells his talent — a lot of BVP's looks were VERY tough shots.— Ben Wieland (@BenWieland) April 26, 2022
He'll probably be the best shooter on the roster. pic.twitter.com/B4YuF7RBMV
BVP’s ability as a playmaker is also underrated; when given the opportunity to operate in the post as an offensive fulcrum, he looked good. He averaged 3.1 assists to just 1.8 turnovers for Ohio last season.
As usual with newcomers to the Virginia system, Vander Plas will need to prove his defensive mettle to earn minutes in high-leverage situations. However, ‘Hoos fans searching for proof that offensively talented fours with spotty defensive ability can play major roles in their first season don’t need to look far, because Jayden Gardner was in a very similar situation after transferring from East Carolina last season. Don’t bank on BVP starting too many games, but he’ll be a key piece of the Cavalier rotation this season.
Of the four highly touted freshmen who will join the ‘Hoos this fall, it’s McKneely who has the most clear shot at big minutes. His skillset of shooting and ball-handling ability fills a need for the Cavaliers on the perimeter.
The first-year shooting guard won West Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors twice and led Poca High School to a state title in his final season. McKneely’s high school experience is relevant for another reason, too: Poca head coach Allen Osborne ran both the blocker-mover offense and the pack line defense, making McKneely’s transition into Tony Bennett’s schemes smoother than it typically is for incoming recruits.
As @zach_carey_ mentions in this article, UVA commit Isaac McKneely's high school runs the same offense as Virginia. It's a win-win — he gets experience in the scheme before joining the team, and it's easy to see the offensive role McKneely will play. https://t.co/lQTjret34R pic.twitter.com/Js15ER9mHl— Ben Wieland (@BenWieland) February 10, 2022
Virginia also has minutes to fill at the guard position on an otherwise-crowded roster. Both Carson McCorkle and Malachi Poindexter transferred out of the program this offseason, creating an opportunity for a bench guard to step up and play. McKneely’s in line to be that guy, especially if he’s ready to step into the scheme immediately.
The other half of “Isaac Squared,” Traudt will face more obstacles on his path to playing time, but his upside as a 6’10 power forward who’s also a knockdown shooter is incredibly high. Like McKneely, Traudt won Nebraska’s Gatorade Player of the Year award in a fantastic senior season for Grand Island.
Some of Traudt’s highlights handling and shooting the ball in high school are freakish. Players at his size shouldn’t have the form and touch that Traudt does from beyond the arc. He won’t have the freedom to handle the ball on the perimeter in college as much as he did in high school, but it’s good to know that he has the ability to do so as well.
It will be tricky for Traudt to see much playing time this fall, especially with the addition of Ben Vander Plas. He isn’t quite fleet of foot enough to play the 3, and the opportunity for playing time at the 4 with both Jayden Gardner and BVP on the roster is very limited. At the 5, head coach Tony Bennett values knowledge of the defensive system above almost anything else, which might result in Kadin Shedrick (understandably) and Francisco Caffaro (less understandably) playing more than Traudt.
However, Traudt’s talent level is too high to keep him off the floor this season. At the very least, he’ll have opportunities in non-conference play to earn a role in more important games down the stretch.
Dunn’s upside is greater than perhaps any member of the 2022 recruiting class, but he might be a bit too raw to play a major role in his first season. He suffered a lower leg injury at the end of his high school season which limited his participation in team camp early this year, and doesn’t quite have the ball-handling ability the ‘Hoos will expect from a perimeter player. With Taine Murray and Armaan Franklin presumably ahead of Dunn on the depth chart, this will be primarily a developmental season barring Dunn taking an elite leap.
Of the four freshmen, Bond is the most likely to redshirt this season, an arrangement that was understood with the coaching staff when he committed to Virginia. His handle isn’t reliable enough at the moment to play on the perimeter in Virginia’s offense, and earning frontcourt playing time as a 6’5 freshman is a tall order. Bond’s upside as a defensive stopper and defensive contributor is high, but he likely won’t get a chance to showcase it on the court this season.