As the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team took care of business in its season opener last night versus the NC Central Eagles, we’re back with individual analysis of UVA’s players and the aspects of the game that stood out as an expansion on our five takeaways from the win which was published late last night.
To clear up any confusion, this isn’t naming any certain players or individuals as winners, losers, or I don’t knows outside of yesterday’s performance. This is more a stock up, stock down, stock maintained sort of analysis that is meant to take what happened in last night’s contest and analyze what it means for the player/team moving forward.
Easy one to start with here. The ‘Hoos took the 12-point win over NCCU and exorcized the season-opening loss demons from last season when UVA lost to Navy at home. This looked like a far better version of that team as the new pieces excelled and the returners largely showed development from last year. It would’ve been better had it been a blowout win, but Tony Bennett’s team proved it could take a punch and bounce back.
I don’t want to overhype Franklin here considering that the key for his success this season comes down to game to game consistency rather than one-off impressive performances, but he really couldn’t have started his second season in Charlottesville any better. His 21 points led the way for UVA offensively while he shot 4-7 from deep, 5-9 from the field, and 7-8 from the free throw line. He added four rebounds and, indicated by his eight free throw attempts, drew a whopping seven fouls from NCCU as the Eagles struggled to contain him all night long.
Franklin emphasized after the game that, while this performance was a good one, “I just want to be consistent throughout the entire year.” The good news for Wahoos fans is that, in his last ten games, Franklin has made 23 of his 48 three-pointers, good for 47.9%. Consistency was an issue for the former Indiana transfer throughout the 2021-2022 season, but he seems to be turning a corner. And that is absolutely huge for this Virginia offense.
Not straying too far from the point on Franklin, the UVA three-point shooting is absolutely a winner from yesterday’s victory. Virginia shot 11-25 from deep (44%) with four different players hitting multiple triples. Those eleven makes are more than UVA hit in any one game last season. While the offense struggled at times to manufacture good looks, the shooting carried the offense, which is an encouraging development as it’s becoming clear that this group can win in multiple ways.
Ben Vander Plas
Hitting two of those threes himself, Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas was quite impressive in his UVA debut with seven points, four rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal. Beyond his shooting, he looked quite comfortable defensively and made a number of impressive plays on offense. Frankly, the team just looked far better with him on the floor — proven by his +10 plus/minus which was tied for second on the team. Personally, I worried about him defensively, but he looked good on that end which projects well for the remainder of the season.
With ten points in as many minutes, Caffaro was quite efficient last night as he made his presence felt. That’s exactly the type of role he’s likely to play this season and, if he can do it well, he should be able to give UVA a good boost off the bench when he comes in for Kadin Shedrick.
UVA fans’ mental health
After a 3-6 start to the Tony Elliott era for the UVA football program, the Wahoo fanbase was in need of a win. While the 12-point victory probably wasn’t what everybody was envisioning, it was still a palate-cleanser as watching Virginia basketball do its thing was a refreshing change of pace from the unfortunately consistent agony of watching the football team.
In terms of roster management, this has to be a bit of a perfect world for Bennett. He’s got probably an eight man rotation with Taine Murray as the ninth, and then Isaac Traudt and Ryan Dunn as two outsiders who could make a real push for minutes as the season progresses. But, and here’s the important note, there are potentially five guys of those top eight who will leave the program this offseason.
So, even if freshmen Traudt and Dunn can’t get minutes on this team, they have incentive to stick around for next season when opportunities should come thick and fast. Throw in Leon Bond’s decision to redshirt and the collection of experience, youth, depth, and patience among the young guys makes this a pretty easy roster to deal with for the coaching staff.
Again, this isn’t meant to over-criticize guys, but Jayden Gardner had what was probably his most inconspicuous outing in a UVA uniform yet with just three points scored and no field goals made. He was the only Virginia player to have a negative plus/minus (-1) and played just twenty minutes while Vander Plas took over at the four for a healthy chunk of the second half.
This is by no means a sign of a drop off or something to be concerned about for the fifth year senior. Rather, it’s a sign of the team’s lessening dependence on him particularly on the offensive side of the ball. He’ll be better as the season get’s going and will surely have his nights, but this group has more depth and strength on offense which should mean he’s less burdened with carrying the offense on a game to game basis. Whether that’s a good thing for him or not, last night was still a bad performance from him which lands him in this category.
The sophomore Kiwi only played 2:13 against NC Central, but that is essentially why I’m putting him down under the “losers.” He was perfectly fine in this game. He had one or two poor closeouts defensively which may have cost him the chance for more minutes later in the game, but he wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.
Rather, this is more a result of the incredibly impressive showing from Franklin and the fact that Isaac McKneely looks to be the first guard off the bench for the ‘Hoos. That probably means Murray is on the outside of the rotation looking in. Don’t discount him, though.
Isaac Traudt and Ryan Dunn
This isn’t groundbreaking, but Traudt and Dunn appear to be the tenth and eleventh guys in an eight to nine man rotation. Traudt is stuck behind four experienced veterans in the front-court while Dunn, as a wing or potential small ball four, is similarly impacted considering the depth in front of him in both the front-court and the backcourt. Neither of them playing against NC Central was a bummer, but should establish expectations for each of their roles this season. They could absolutely still break into the rotation — they’re each plenty talented — but that will take some doing.
I don’t knows
His second half alone deserves to be placed in the “winner” category, but Shedrick had a game which was a tale of two halves. He seemed kind of out of it in the first half as he had only two points, two rebounds, and a steal in the first twenty minutes. But, the redshirt junior turned things up a notch in the second half with eight points, five rebounds (including two on the offensive glass), two blocks, and a steal while shooting 3-5 from the floor.
The second half performance looked like the player who Shedrick has been hyped up to be all offseason — a game-changing big on either end of the floor. If he can be that over the span of entire games, watch out.
Another up and down showing, Beekman had his moments of greatness against the Eagles. He scored 10 points, hit a pair of triples, dished out five assists, and was the driving force in Virginia’s 15-2 run that put UVA up for good in the second half.
But, at the same time, he also had four turnovers, was in early foul trouble in the first half, and made one or two risky decisions defensively which resulted in NCCU baskets. Clearly, Beekman has incredible potential. For him as well it’s about continuing to be more aggressive on offense, putting it together for 40 minutes, and then repeating that game after game.
I don’t really have anything too too bad to say about Kihei from this game. He scored nine points, had five assists and just two turnovers, and hit two triples. That said, he shot 3-9 from the floor, 2-6 from deep, and 1-4 from the line and got lost in the shuffle on defense a few times. If he hits a few more shots and shakes off some of the defensive rust, he’ll be in the winner column easily.
I really went back and forth on this one. McKneely should probably be in the winners column after last night, but I’m going to decide to hold him to the higher standard which he deserves. As a true freshman in his first game, playing 23 minutes is a big deal. He’s obviously going to be in the rotation this season and has established himself as a reliable contributor in Bennett’s eyes. He hit a rhythm three against NC Central and was fairly sound in his on ball-defense and comfortable making the necessary rotations off-ball.
That being said, had one not-so-pretty turnover, finished 1-4 from the field, and didn’t impact the game offensively beyond being a floor spacer. Again, I’ve decided to hold him to a similar standard to those of the veterans he’s playing alongside. Purely from the perspective of him as a freshman trying to get minutes on a Tony Bennett team, this was a big day for the guard from Poca, West Virginia.
Yeah, the Eagles lost the game. But I was pretty impressed by their showing altogether. They had some really nice offensive sets that had the UVA defense scrambling, especially with their off-ball screening which disrupted Virginia’s typical rotations in the Packline defense. Give NC Central credit, they made this a game. The Eagles just didn’t have the firepower to match Virginia when Beekman and company got going.