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24 storylines to watch for UVA basketball in the 2023-2024 season

Detailing anything and everything worth tracking for the ‘Hoos this season.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tipoff Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball season tips off in a mere nine days. So before the 2023-2024 season gets going, we figured this would be an appropriate time to lay out 24 storylines to keep an eye on as this season progresses. From individual developments, to coaching decisions, to on floor results, we’re covering it all.

Is Ryan Dunn lottery pick good?

He’s got the potential. He has the build, the defensive instincts, and the elite traits. Now it’s just about piecing together the offense game to the point where NBA scouts view his game as possible to develop to an elite three and D level and he’ll be gone. That could happen this year, and if it’s to the degree of a lottery pick level of player this could be a special season for the ‘Hoos.

How much do Reece Beekman and Dante Harris play together?

After three straight years of Kihei Clark and Beekman starting together, how much Reece and Dante Harris play together will be interesting. Beekman should play 35+ minutes per game, so Harris’ role will go beyond just backing him up.

But will Bennett stick with a dual point guard starting lineup? Is their strength defensively enough to make up for the lack of shooting on the other end? When they do play together does the offense work better because of having more of a ball handling/initiating presence or worse because of less shooting prowess? Only time will tell.

Is Blake Buchanan the prince who was promised?

Dunn and Beekman hyped him up at ACC Media Tipoff, and rightfully so. We’ve been hyping up Blake Buchanan on here for awhile, professing him as the big man to break the mold of Virginia freshman centers who have either redshirted or not contributed much at all. This year UVA has no true center who’s more experienced or more talented than Buchanan, and all indications point to him being a rotational contributor on this team. If he can be that, and maybe more, that’d be huge for this team now and in the future.

What role does Jake Groves play?

How much and when Groves plays will probably be matchup dependent. He’s a good shooter who will provide a wrinkle to the offense and could be a fun pairing with Ryan Dunn in the frontcourt. His playing time is probably more dependent on how good the younger players in the frontcourt are, which underscores how notable the role he plays will be. But if he shoots the lights out then his role could absolutely expand.

Is the Leon Bond hype real?

If there’s a player on this team who is most likely to shock the national audience with a stellar year, it’s probably Leon Bond. Knowledgeable basketball folk know of Beekman and Dunn’s potential and McKneely’s shooting prowess. After he redshirted, though, Bond is a true wildcard for Virginia. If he can establish himself as a consistent contributor that would make Virginia that much more versatile.

Does Virginia run?

They’ve certainly got the pieces for it. In Ryan Dunn, Dante Harris, Reece Beekman, Leon Bond, and even Andrew Rohde the ‘Hoos have a lot of players who are prone to creating transition opportunities with blocks and steals. Harris and Beekman are both good at pushing the ball down the floor quickly, and Dunn, Bond, Jordan Minor, and Buchanan should be good finishers in transition.

Obviously it’s maybe unwise to expect a Tony Bennett team to push the ball down the floor, but from early quotes from players and Bennett himself it sounds like the Cavaliers might place a slightly higher emphasis on generating transition than in years’ past. For an offense that will have to find its identity as the season progresses, creating some easy points especially early on would be huge.

Will Reece Beekman be All-American good?

He’s put together stretches of play that are All-American good. Yet that hamstring injury really hampered Beekman down the stretch last year. Whether or not Beekman can string together a season of performances like how he played early in the 2022-2023 campaign will be a big determining factor in how good this year’s team can be.

Can the ‘Hoos take advantage of a relatively weak ACC schedule?

UVA doesn’t play a team ranked above them in the ACC Preseason Poll until February 5th. That’s not to say that they won’t play good teams in conference before then. There is an opportunity for the ‘Hoos to rack up some early Ws though. Doing so should put them in a good position to win the program’s seventh ACC Regular Season Title in the last 11 seasons.

Which Virginia player will win ACC DPOY?

A UVA player has been the conference’s defensive player of the year five of the last nine seasons, and in Dunn and Beekman the ‘Hoos have two of the top candidates again this season. Beekman is likely the betting favorite especially because voters know him and picked him before. But it could be a tight race, and even guys like Dante Harris or Leon Bond could be in the conversation for the All-ACC Defensive Team if they play a high volume of minutes.

Is outside shooting a problem?

McKneely is an elite outside shooter, Beekman is a reliable catch and shoot guy, Groves provides a stretch four option, but otherwise there are a lot of question marks about UVA’s outside shooting this season. Dante Harris, Andrew Rohde, and Ryan Dunn are poised for increases in efficiency from the outside.

Whether that will be the case is still up in the air, and even then will the offense struggle with only McKneely as a knockdown shooter? Probably not considering Beekman, Harris, and Rohde’s strengths to create off the dribble. But we’ve seen poor shooting doom UVA teams in the past.

Is Jordan Minor a legit defensive anchor?

Jordan Minor’s most important job for Virginia is to be a sturdy defensive presence. Throwing around names like Darion Atkins and Akil Mitchell is unfair to Minor. Yet that’s the mold of player Minor should fit for the ‘Hoos. A finisher on offense who can occasionally score out of the post but who makes his presence felt defensively with his athleticism and ability to guard in the post without absolutely needing a double. He’s mobile, he’s strong, he’s got good hands.

The question is simply whether or not Minor can effectively adapt to ACC basketball and whether or not he’ll be exposed in one area or another. Could he be a black hole on offense? Is he quick enough to hard hedge and recover versus ball screens at this level? If he checks all the boxes then he’s likely due for 25 minutes per game and will be a tone setter for the Wahoo frontcourt.

How much does UVA play with only two guards?

How much Harris and Beekman play together is worth watching. Yet so will how much Bennett rolls with forwards at the three and four with only two guards on the floor. Bond and Dunn are the two most likely guys to be the featured components of a bigger lineup with their 3-4 versatility providing the staff an opportunity to put more size and length on the floor.

Where Dunn is used most positionally also plays a big role here. Is his handling and playmaking ability off the dribble good enough to warrant more minutes as the three? What about the other frontcourt guys? Is Jake Groves too good of a shooter to keep off the floor? Is Jordan Minor the defensive anchor the team needs? What about Buchanan? How Dunn is used will probably be as much a product of how the rest of the roster performs as how well he does.

Can Elijah Gertrude crack the rotation?

There will be four guards (Beekman, Harris, Rohde, McKneely) ahead of freshman Elijah Gertrude this season. If he’s good enough now to still crack the rotation will probably be determined by how confident Bennett is in him defensively and whether or not he gives the offense something that Rohde and/or Harris don’t as a scorer. He’s got the skillset to play minutes, but there might simply be too many cooks in the backcourt’s kitchen.

Do Christian Bliss and Anthony Robinson redshirt as expected?

All signs point to Bliss and Robinson redshirting this season, although you never really know until a few games into the season if that’s set in stone. There’s an outside shot Gertrude redshirts, but that seems unlikely given how talented and capable he is right now.

Will Andrew Rohde be more efficient?

Rohde’s freshman shooting numbers aren’t entirely pretty because of the volume and difficulty of shots he had to take. In a lesser role with UVA, he’ll get better opportunities yet will also have his catch and shoot ability tested.

He’s the type of player who is at his best when he can create his own shot, and he’ll get those chances within the Virginia offense. But perhaps the most important key for him this season will be how well he fits as a complementary offensive player which largely comes down to his outside shooting.

What does the offensive scheme prioritize?

Virginia doesn’t have a long list of offensive schemes. Between sides or mover-blocker (which has incorporated the continuity ball screen set), the triangle or “three-man” offense, and their basic four out high ball screen offense, the buttons Tony Bennett has to press on offense aren’t that diverse. But when he does decide to switch things up it speaks to wider personnel implications.

From the outside looking in on this roster before the season starts, this looks like a group most well suited for sides (surprise surprise). As is typical for Bennett teams, the guards will be the ones making the plays while the bigs should be more so focused on locking things down defensively and creating space for the guards on offense. That said I’m betting that we see more four out offense with Beekman running the show with ball screens than we have in recent years, and there will be times they slip into a triangle set to create dribble drive opportunities for Ryan Dunn in particular.

How much does roster turnover matter?

That’s the big question for whether UVA basketball and Tony Bennett’s vision can sustain itself in this era of college basketball. This is a team comprised of a majority of new faces, so how well and how quickly this group can mesh on the court will be telling.

Is this young core the future?

In a similar vein, this season should tell us a lot about the future of this program. This team is bursting with young talent and could be set up for success down the line if things go their way. And who would bet against Bennett and his staff developing players who boast elite traits? But at the same time this is a complex puzzle with a lot of interestingly shaped pieces to be fit together. It could very well work out. It’s also possible that it doesn’t. And, again, only time will tell.

Do the ‘Hoos return to defensive dominance?

For a seven year stretch from 2014-2020 the lowest Virginia finished the season in national defensive efficiency was seventh with every other season in the top-five. Since then, UVA has finished 36th, 59th, and 25th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Part of that is a lack of continuity, which is a prominent feature for this year’s team as well. But a lot of that was also the personnel not living up to the standard. This season, there are plenty of defensively focused players such as Dunn, Beekman, Harris, Bond, Minor, and Buchanan who should really help anchor the Packline defense. Finishing top-10 in defensive efficiency for a group that is so unfamiliar with one another would probably be too high a standard. But top-20 or even top-15 doesn’t seem impossible given the raw talent.

Will a Virginia player be an All-ACC first teamer?

Until the last two seasons, Virginia hadn’t gone more than one season without a player on the All-ACC first team since 2011. The last two years were also the first two seasons that the Cavaliers didn’t have a player on either of the first or second teams since that 2010-2011 season.

Yeah, this is kinda silly. It does however speak to a lack of elite talent on the roster the past couple seasons. Beekman was a preseason first team selection this year, and Dunn or McKneely could very well scratch second (or first) team selection. But if none do that’s probably a sign of much bigger problems.

Can this group make free throws at a respectable rate?

Last season UVA was 237th in the country in free throw shooting percentage, and it cost them down the stretch of big games (most notably against Furman in the first round of the tournament). This year’s team will have to be improved at the stripe. Reece Beekman and Isaac McKneely should be reliable. Andrew Rohde shot 80.4% as a freshman on 3.9 attempts per game, so he should be another reliable option. But after those three it’s a bit in the air.

Dante Harris is a career 79.8% free throw shooter, although he came in at 74.7% in his most recent season. Despite his volume as a three-point shooter, Jake Groves is only a 68.7% career free throw shooter. Jordan Minor sits at 58.6%. Hopefully Ryan Dunn (11-22 as a freshman) will also be better in that department. But it’s sketchy in the frontcourt.

Is non-con play a bloodbath or a proving ground?

Early games against Florida, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, and West Virginia or SMU will provide an early look at how much growth the Wahoos will need to make to be a competitive tournament team come March. They could very well drop the majority of these games and still turn things around later in the year. Or the raw talent could shine and unproven players could break out early.

Will UVA win its 7th ACC Regular Season title in 11 years?

It’s entirely possible. Sure Duke is getting all the preseason hype and UNC and MIami are maybe more reliable bets. But Tony Bennett and regular season success don’t often part ways, no matter his roster composition. The schedule gives the ‘Hoos the opportunity, and this team should be rounding into form when they play the most important games. I sure wouldn’t bet against this group at least sharing another regular season championship.

Can Virginia win its first NCAA Tournament game in 5 years?

The most prominent storyline for UVA this season and as a program as a whole. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. Virginia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since the 2019 National Championship.

To some extent, who cares, they won the freaking natty. But if we’re being real here it’s past time for the program to get back on the horse in the postseason and make another run to the second weekend. The talent is there for this roster. It’ll come down to how well they gel together and whether or not they execute when it matters most.