By beating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday and with a number of the ACC’s other top teams losing, the Virginia Cavaliers now solely own second play in the conference standings at 7-2 in the ACC, only behind the 8-1 Clemson Tigers.
As the Wahoos have a week of a break between this past Saturday’s victory and next Saturday’s contest with the Boston College Eagles, I figured it’d be appropriate to take some time to evaluate how the individual players have performed relative to expectations. With eighteen games in the books and 9/20 conference outings behind us, we’ve got a pretty meaningful sample size with which to pull from.
For context, the scale I’m using here is quite simple: each player is graded as “Stock Up,” “Stock Neutral,” or “Stock Down,” relative to the generally perceived preseason expectations for both the role they’d play and how well they have performed in the role they’ve played (or, in some cases, if they’ve transcended the expected role). This also isn’t meant as an indictment of any of these individuals or a prediction for how they’ll perform in the future, it’s merely analyzing what’s happened over the past two plus months.
Reece Beekman: Stock Up
One of the easier decisions here, Beekman has made just about all the improvements that were desired of him this offseason. Not only has he maintained his play as a distributor who rarely makes a mistake — his 3.22 assist to turnover ratio is sixth in the country — but he’s grown as a scorer and a shooter. While his per game numbers are skewed because of his injuries this season, his per 100 possession numbers depict how significant those developments have been.
Beekman is scoring 20.7 points per 100 possessions this year, up from 15.6 last season while shooting a whole 12.9% (46.7% to 33.8%) better from beyond the three point arc while taking 5.6 threes per 100 possessions, compared to just 3.5 and 3.3 his first two seasons in college.
Beyond the numbers, subjectively, Beekman has just been a much better version of himself. His explosion off the bounce, skill as a finisher, basketball IQ in the pick and roll, decision making, and penchant for big moments have all made him the team’s most valuable offensive player.
Of course, that doesn’t even account for his impact defensively. He remains one of the best on-ball perimeter defenders in the conference, boasting game-changing abilities as a disruptor as his quick hands, fantastic instincts, flawless footwork, and in-depth understanding of angles make him so hard to beat in isolation. He’s also very good off-ball and has changed the course of multiple games this year by jumping passing lanes and generating transition offense.
Beekman is Virginia’s best player, and that’s exactly what he needed to be coming into the year for the squad to reach its potential. Now it’s about how well the pieces will fit around him.
Kihei Clark: Stock Up
I’ll admit to some skepticism about Clark returning for a fifth season; I don’t think I was the only one. It felt as if it was time to hand the keys off to Beekman and let the youngins take over. In a stark rebuke of any doubters, Clark has been the best version of himself this year. His presence alongside Beekman in the backcourt has made up the roster’s biggest strength as their combination is probably the best one-two backcourt in the conference as they change the game on offense and defense.
With 4.5 seasons of high volume, major conference basketball minutes behind him, Clark knows how to beat any opponent. He’s calculated in his approach on offense as he’s found the balance between attacking the rim when he can, knocking down shots when he must, and keeping the offense flowing for others as much as possible. Similarly to Beekman, he’s putting up career highs in points and assists per 100 possessions (22.2 and 11.2) and three-point shooting (39.3% on six attempts per 100 possessions). He’s been ridiculously efficient and hasn’t been committing many turnovers at 19th in the country in assist to turnover ratio with 2.84 helpers per giveaway.
Clark has also taken his defense to another level, believe it or not. It helps to have Beekman alongside him in the backcourt, but his 2.6% steal rate is another career high as he’s leveraged his experience and know-how into frustrating opponents even more by getting underneath them. He’s even gone on solo runs with backcourt steals and scores a couple times already this season.
Kihei Clark is among the nation’s toughest defenders. He’s smart, he studies his assignment, and if you show the ball during a hand change, he’ll take it from you. Clark plays low, gets up underneath you, and pressures the ball from the opening tap. @ClarkKihei is a killer. pic.twitter.com/09qHXGkl9s— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) January 20, 2023
If Beekman is Virginia’s 1a, Clark is 1b. Having each of them is a luxury few if any other teams can match in college basketball, and each has outperformed what could’ve been reasonably expected before the season.
Armaan Franklin: Stock Up
The third head of UVA’s backcourt monster and the team’s leading scorer, Armaan Franklin has become the player it looked like he could be when he transferred to Charlottesville from Indiana. With last season looking more and more like a result of his turf toe injury and the struggles of adapting to the Virginia system in year one, Franklin is also playing the best basketball of his career right now.
Shooting 40.8% from beyond the arc on a career-high 11.8 attempts per 100 possessions, Franklin has officially become the high volume, high success rate shooter that the Wahoos have needed. Beyond that, he’s grown as a slasher and a playmaker off the dribble as well with his 27.9 points per 100 possessions a career high. He’s done all that with a career-low 8.4% turnover rate with his 6.1% giveaway rate in conference play good for second in the ACC.
Franklin has been the ideal three-and-D guy for UVA this season and then some. He’s seventh in the ACC in fewest fouls committed per 40 minutes while also sitting 15th and 18th in block and steal rate. His athleticism has been on full display, especially in the last ten games or so. While he’s not the type of lockdown perimeter defender as Beekman or Clark, he’s very good as the third guy who can make plays off the ball and is one of the team’s best rebounders despite only being 6’4”.
Franklin’s been even better within the Wahoos’ small ball lineups and triangle offense as Tony Bennett himself noted how he thinks these adjustments have freed up Franklin and his ideal style of play. I think we’ve only seen the beginning of his breakout onto what could eventually be the national stage.
Jayden Gardner: Stock Down
While last season’s starting backcourt has been far better than last season, the team’s starting front-court entering the year has unfortunately stagnated. Starting with Jayden Gardner, it feels as though UVA has moved past the super senior a bit. I should be careful in saying that, though, as Gardner still does so many things well on the basketball court. He can bring a scoring punch inside at a moment’s notice, has made a couple of big shots for Virginia this season, and can be a good on-ball defender in the paint.
That said, Gardner hasn’t been efficient enough to garner the volume of opportunities he had last year. His 38.5% conversion rate from the midrange is down from 45.3% last season (which is a big regression considering the limited value in long two-pointers). Meanwhile, the arrival of Ben Vander Plas has helped to revolutionize and somewhat modernize this iteration of the Virginia offense while Ryan Dunn’s impact defensively has started to mean that the freshman is taking minutes away from his veteran teammate.
Gardner is still a valuable piece for this roster. He’s going to be important down the stretch as his experience and skills are unlike any other for the Cavaliers and he provides good versatility in the front-court. But his role has been and probably will continue to be best as more of a situational contributor than a possession to possession one like he was last season.
Kadin Shedrick: Stock Down
The most puzzling player to evaluate this season, Kadin Shedrick is a player of high highs and low lows. He’s an extremely efficient offensive player within his role as a finisher (typically as the roll-man off ball screens) and is underrated as a decision-maker and passer with the ball in his hands. Defensively, he can be a menace as a weak-side shot-blocker and when blowing up ball screens on the perimeter as a disruptive hedger. He’s got good hands and solid instincts and can even create offense when helping outside.
Kadin Shedrick: 10% block rate, 3.5% steal rate, 82.5 FT%, 24 dunks, 84 2P% at the rim, 75% true shooting— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 9, 2023
Only 8 high-major players since 07-08 have finished with 8% block, 3% steal, 75 FT% (Efe Abogidi, Paul Reed, KJ McDaniels, Thybulle, Khadeem Lattin)
Unfortunately for UVA, all of that comes with the troubling caveat of his inconsistency. He continues to rack up (often silly) fouls, is sometimes too aggressive defensively which leads to easy buckets, and, while efficient, his offensive production is based on others creating shots for him.
The fouls are the worst part of it as his five fouls per 40 minutes is only 0.3 fewer than last season. As pointed out by our very own Ben Wieland, typically, Virginia’s bigs who are comparable to Shedrick have made leaps in their redshirt junior years by limiting those fouling issues. After fouling 6.7 and 5.6 times per 40 minutes his first two seasons, Mamadi Diakite only committed 3.9 and then 2.4 in his last two years. Jay Huff went 5.3, 6.3, 3.9, 3.8. As of writing, Shedrick has gone 6.8, 5.3, and now 5.0 as that leap we were expecting hasn’t quite happened.
At his best, Shedrick is one of the best bigs in the conference and could realistically go possession for possession with any of the best bigs on the defensive side of the ball. The crazy potential he has as a defender is still there and his offensive production at its best is more than good enough considering his defensive ceiling. But he still needs to put all the pieces together. Whether he can do that before this season is over is one of the biggest questions left for this team.
Ben Vander Plas: Stock Up
Vander Plas has been a relatively volatile player for the ‘Hoos this season. At times, he’s been one of the biggest driving factors behind the team’s success. During others, he’s been inefficient offensively and a sore spot defensively.
Since the recent schematic and lineup adjustments made by the coaching staff, though, Vander Plas has been tremendous for UVA as his style of play offensively changes what the team can do. He’s also proven to be a good on-ball defender in the post as his size and strength have rarely been overmatched while he’s been decent coming to help out on the perimeter. BVP benefits from having plus defenders around him — such as Beekman, Clark, Franklin, Dunn, and (at times) Shedrick — but he’s developed a more consistent defensive presence which has allowed the Wahoos to rely on their lineups with him at center.
There will be literally bigger tests for Vander Plas as conference play continues, but labeling him anything worse than “Stock Up” relative to what his role was thought to have been entering the year would be incorrect.
Isaac McKneely: Stock Up
While McKneely may be victim to having high expectations when he arrived in Charlottesville in the fall, he’s had an awesome freshman season up until this point. He struggled to shoot the ball at the beginning of the season, but has turned it on of late and is now an impressive 41.7% on a whopping 12.1 three-point attempts per 100 possessions. Beyond just shooting the ball, he’s starting to show off his ability to get downhill and finish. At 6’4”, he’s much taller and broader than Kyle Guy and should only continue to develop his offensive game in time.
Defensively, McKneely’s been solid as a rock. He knows the system inside and out (partially from playing it in high school) but also has physical gifts and techniques that have contributed to such heavy minutes for a true freshman in the Virginia system. He’s got quick feet, active hands in the passing lanes, strength plus a bit of bulk, and is surprisingly good at playing angles considering how long he’s been playing college basketball. The former Poca Dot should only get better within the Pack-Line over time.
Ryan Dunn: Stock Up
Probably the biggest riser of the bunch, it was expected by many (including yours truly) that Dunn would redshirt his first season as a Cavalier. Boy should Virginia fans be glad he didn’t. The 6’8” wing has been getting better and better with more opportunities as he’s been fantastic defensively and is starting to show more signs of life offensively.
His 10.5% block rate is ridiculous no matter the relatively lower volume of minutes he’s played while he’s also been a tough rebounder on offense and defense. He’s still a few steps away from being the elite wing defender that the program has become accustomed to having, but he’s still capable of guarding a variety of players and can absolutely hang against the ACC’s best.
Monmouth coach King Rice on Ryan Dunn making the comparison to De'Andre Hunter.— Preston Willett (@PrestonWillett) November 12, 2022
Rice remembers Hunter dropping 23 points against Monmouth in his fourth career game.
On Dunn: "He'll be giving people problems for a long, long time." pic.twitter.com/omAXgfP3PY
Whether or not his shot starts to fall some more and just how relentless he can be on defense should determine if his role continues to grow down the stretch. He’s set his conference-play high for minutes in three consecutive games and could be making a push to start at the four alongside Vander Plas in the front-court.
Long term, Dunn as an NBA prospect is a realistic goal. It’s going to take time and a lot of time in the gym, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be drafted in a few years’ time. For now, it’s merely a matter of how much of that ceiling he can scrape to help this Virginia team win.
Francisco Caffaro: Stock Neutral
Outside of a change in the general public’s correct pronunciation of his last name, not much has changed for Francisco Caffaro this season. And that’s not a bad thing! Granted, he’s playing fewer minutes this year compared to last season (7.3 per game down from 17.7), but that was bound to happen as the roster improved internally and externally. Papi has still and will still have his moments against the right opponents as his physicality on the inside, solid finishing ability, and occasional back-to-the-basket post game can and will likely be needed off the bench.
Taine Murray: Stock Down
Taine Murray is a solid college basketball player. He does a lot of things well. He’s a physical defender who doesn’t make mistakes, has sound footwork, and can match up against either bigger or smaller players. The Kiwi also does some good things on offense as he’s a capable slasher who can use his body to get to the rim and has the ability to jump stop, turn, and shoot over a bigger defender. Murray also hit a number of big triples in his first year on Grounds.
That being said, he’s squarely on the outside looking in at the Wahoo rotation. Who knows what his future holds, but the prospects of him playing meaningful minutes for Virginia this season seem slim especially as other young players like Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn continue to flourish. That’s a shame considering that Murray has a number of things going for him. Hopefully he’ll be able to put that on display either for UVA or somewhere else if he should so choose.
Tony Bennett: Stock Up
Decided to throw the man himself in here to highlight just how much this season has further cemented Tony Bennett’s legacy. Despite concerns regarding running things back with an NIT squad from last season, his roster construction decisions have been proven correct as his trust in his program’s internal development combined with his string of success on the recruiting trail have yielded another likely top-10 team in the country that is probably the favorite for the ACC Regular Season Title. Bennett’s trust in his guys and the value of experience in his system has proven masterful once again.
More specific to the team’s recent five-game winning streak, Bennett’s success as an in-season adjuster has reared its gorgeous head again as well. The idea to run with small-ball lineups and to rely on his iteration of the triangle offense has paid off in big ways of late as he’s found a system and lineup combinations that suit his personnel, rather than trying to force the personnel to fit the scheme. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to UVA’s improvement as the season has progressed and to the team’s goals for the rest of the season.