We are less than two weeks away from tip off of the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball season, so after we previewed the Wahoo backcourt last week, this week we’re taking a look at the frontcourt and a group with a mix of experience, talent, and youth.
Dunn will be the star of Virginia’s bigs this season. Although he’ll play minutes on the perimeter for the ‘Hoos as the three, he will spend the majority of his time on the floor at the 4 and will most likely start there to open the season.
He’s an elite defender who could very well be Reece Beekman’s top competition to be the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Dunn can realistically guard 1-4, maybe even 1-5, with his length, agility, shot-blocking prowess, and instincts making him elite on and off the ball. His presence on the floor automatically makes the ‘Hoos a better defensive team, and the sophomore spending roughly 30 minutes per game on the court will make Virginia a better defensive team than it was last season.
Offensively is where Dunn’s game will expand. After being an energy guy on the boards and in transition as a freshman, he’ll be expected to hit outside shots when the opportunities present themselves while also creating for himself and for others at times. If the Blue-White scrimmage is anything to go off, he’s embraced being a playmaker and will be a more diverse offensive threat as a slasher and a passer in the 2023-2024. There’s a reason NBA Draft people have Dunn as a potential lottery pick this summer, and if he puts all the pieces together there’s no reason he can’t be that good this year.
Minor is the high floor, low ceiling necessary veteran to start at center for Virginia. At 6’8” and 242 pounds, Minor provides a good level of physicality and strength in the paint. He’s an effective rebounder who is mobile enough to be a good defender in the Packline, and he’s a good finisher on offense who should benefit off the play of those around him.
Minor has been a dominant player in college basketball, just not at this level. He’s going to be a solid backend of the Wahoo defense, and offensively he’s unlikely to make many mistakes as long as he’s not relied on to create offense too often. Minor should start the season as the starting center alongside Dunn and would be the betting favorite to play the most minutes among frontcourt players not including Dunn. But the high potential of other players on this list could challenge that presumption.
Bond is the wild card in this frontcourt. Everybody else has a more or less defined role subject to slight changes depending on game to game performance and opponents. But Bond is an unknown. He could be anywhere between a 25+ minute per game starter or an end of the rotation guy playing around 10 minutes per.
Bond will be at his best playing as a small ball four offensively with defensive versatility. His pairing with Dunn could be really fun, not only because of their versatility on either and lockdown ability, but also because of their obvious chemistry on and off the court. For this team to be its best, Bond will play meaningful in the frontcourt. He can slash to the basket, hit in the midrange, knock down the occasional three, and be a game changer defensively.
Pregame warmup dunk contest: Ryan Dunn vs. Leon Bond pic.twitter.com/XWpzwU2Q9a— Preston Willett (@PrestonWillett) February 4, 2023
The question for Bond — a player who does a lot of things well — will be whether or not he does a few things to an elite degree to push for significant minutes. If he can produce offensively and Dunn is comfortable playing on the perimeter on offense (which it looks like he will be) then lineups featuring the two at the 3 and 4 or even at the 4 and 5 for super small ball could be difference makers for the ‘Hoos this season.
Groves fits the stretch four mold that Tony Bennett has fallen in love with over the last few seasons. He’s not an elite shooter, but he can be a good pick and pop option in Virginia’s various offenses that will force defenses to defend the Cavaliers differently. At its best this team will have enough younger players playing big enough roles such that the 6’9” Groves doesn’t play a major role on this team. But he’s another high floor veteran who can be a really nice complementary player with the right guys around him.
The 6’11” Buchanan is a tantalizing prospect for this upcoming season. All indications point to him having the most opportunity of any true freshman big in the Bennett era, and those indications similarly suggest that he’s the most well suited for such responsibilities at a young age. At ACC Media Tipoff, Reece Beekman and Ryan Dunn emphasized how good Buchanan has been in practice with Beekman saying that the team will need him this year.
Buchanan is a shot blocker, a tenacious rebounder, quick for his size, lanky, but also filled out for his age. He’s got a lot less baby-giraffe-ness to him than other young bigs who’ve come through Charlottesville over the past decade (looking at you Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, and Kadin Shedrick). The Idaho native is also good as a finisher off a short roll and is a lob threat for Virginia’s point guards to utilize around the basket. With time, he should establish more of a post presence, but that will likely be down the line.
For now, Buchanan is the lone true center who’s set to play for UVA this season. On the one hand that’s concerning that a true freshman provides the only true size on the roster. On the other, it’s exciting that such a talent is going to get the opportunity to mix it up early and often. As I professed in my 10 bold predictions for this upcoming season, I expect Buchanan to flourish this season.
Robinson is most likely going to redshirt. He’s a center for the future who is more of that baby giraffe of sorts who’s got absurd athleticism but will need some time to learn how to utilize his strengths at this level of competition. He’s got as high of a ceiling as any true big on this team. It’ll just be about how soon he can start to fulfill that potential.