We are just 34 days away from the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball season opener. After yesterday’s preseason mailbag answering an assortment of fan questions about the upcoming season, today we’re doing an in-depth preview of the Wahoos’ roster and rotation for the upcoming season.
Here’s an initial look at a rough depth chart for Tony Bennett’s team this year:
UVA Basketball 2023-2024 Projected Depth Chart
|Point Guard||Shooting guard||Small forward||Power forward||Center|
|Point Guard||Shooting guard||Small forward||Power forward||Center|
|R. Beekman||I. McKneely||A. Rohde||R. Dunn||J. Minor|
|D. Harris||E. Gertrude||L. Bond||J. Groves||B. Buchanan|
|C. Bliss||T. Murray||A. Robinson|
I went back and forth about where to place players, but ended up going with where I figured each player fits most naturally and then listing them by projected minutes played at that spot. It’s entirely possible that Dante Harris starts in games for Virginia this season next to Reece Beekman. Heck I even predicted it yesterday. But to maintain positional structure, in this depth chart he sits behind Beekman at point guard.
Isaac McKneely is the team’s best shooting guard, but he’s capable of playing the three even if he’s slightly undersized at 6’4”. Leon Bond will get minutes at the three and the four, so I plugged him in where there’s less depth. Everything else seems pretty self-explanatory. Minor could play the four alongside Buchanan, and plenty of these players could play different traditional positions, but that’s how I envision the roster shaking up at this point in time.
The projected starting lineup
Beekman will lead UVA in minutes this season. He’s the team’s undisputed leader and best player. The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year will spearhead Virginia defensively and will be hoping to expand on the early season offensive success he had last year before a string of injuries limited him in the back half of the season.
This is everything we've been asking for from Reece Beekman. The confidence to take Terrence Shannon Jr. off the dribble in a massive moment, the handle to beat him to the basket, and the strength to finish through contact. Incredible play by an incredible player. pic.twitter.com/31m43z8bk7— Ben Wieland (@BenWieland) November 20, 2022
It doesn’t seem ambitious to say that UVA will go as Beekman does in the 2023-2024 season. Is he the explosive downhill scorer who can force defenses to play him straight up by knocking down open jumpers and hitting floaters in the lane? Or will he fall back on relying on deferring to his teammates? Beekman’s passing and knack for creating passing lanes is one of his biggest strengths, but his prowess as a scorer will be a critical part in determining Virginia’s ceiling.
Next to Beekman in the backcourt will be sophomore Isaac McKneely. Plenty of guards in a similar mold to McKneely in this program have broken out in year two (Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Guy, to name a few), and the former Poca Dot looks primed to do so when the season kicks off in November. He’s an elite shooter who has a developing game beyond that. How much he thrives with a much higher volume of designed shots going his way and to what degree he can punish defenses for overplaying him as a shooter will be keys to watch with regard to his overall growth as a player.
The third guard spot is the one that’s most up in the air at this point in time. Andrew Rohde is my preferred option as a shooter, scorer and possible secondary ball handler, although Bennett rolling with Dante Harris as a stable defender and true ball handler wouldn’t surprise me. Remember, UVA started Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman next to each other for the last three years. It’s far from unprecedented for Bennett to roll with two defensively focused, slightly undersized lead guards in his starting lineup.
There are also darkhorse options Elijah Gertrude and Leon Bond, although I don’t think Bond is refined enough offensively to be a starter on the perimeter while Gertrude is likely a bit too small and a bit too raw for now. Sure Taine Murray could be an option, but I don’t see how he’d move the needle relative to the rest.
At the four should be Ryan Dunn. Dunn has the requisite size and strength to survive as a power forward with his mobility and length as a defender being one of the roster’s strengths. With Dunn at the four, the ‘Hoos could realistically switch one through four if it suits them against specific opponents. Dunn is an ACC DPOY caliber of defender with everything you could ask for of a PF in the Packline defense.
Impressive sequence for Virginia freshman Ryan Dunn. pic.twitter.com/imammCQnje— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 28, 2023
Offensively is where there are far more uncertainties with Dunn’s game, but he projects to develop there this season. He’s shown flashes of hitting jumpers, especially from the midrange, and his body type and measurables suggest that with time he can become a capable face up player in the post. To what extent he can score the ball this year will determine how much the ‘Hoos can rely on scoring from the frontcourt and whether or not Dunn will get picked in the 2024 NBA Draft.
Jordan Minor is the last amongst the projected starters. The Merrimack transfer is yet another unproven player at this level, but he’s also played the most college basketball of anyone on this team. He’s a high floor, low ceiling player in the Wahoo frontcourt who should make for a defensively stout pairing alongside Dunn. Both are strong, mobile players who make up for being 6’8” with shot-blocking ability and length. Minor isn’t the most polished player on offense, but he should do well as a finisher around the rim, a roller off ball screens, and an occasional post-up option.
Whichever of Harris or Rohde doesn’t start projects to be a key contributor for the ‘Hoos off the bench. After that it’s hard to know exactly who will play what role, but Virginia’s lucky to have a bevy of players who could step up into playing meaningful minutes.
Jacob Groves is the most proven player off the bench but his role will probably stay in the 10-15 minute range throughout the season. He can hit an outside shot and provide a different look after setting screens as a shooter to pop to the perimeter. If he can execute that role well, that’s a valuable chess piece to have for Bennett schematically, as long as it’s not overplayed.
Blake Buchanan is the player to watch. How well he adapts to the college game and the Virginia system could be the most important early season storyline for the Cavaliers because UVA doesn’t have an established true center on its roster. He’s such an enticing long term prospect as an elite shot blocker, a mobile center who can thrive under the pressure that Bennett puts on his bigs defensively, and an offensive weapon with the skillset to score from the low post or pop to the midrange (or even beyond the arc) to spread defenses out. How many of those abilities translate in year one is the question.
How Leon Bond is used on this team will be fascinating to watch. He has to get time on the floor, that much is clear. But how exactly he’s used is up in the air. Does he play on the perimeter given that he’s 6’5” and has the slashing ability to play as a guard? Or will he be more valuable playing as a small ball four who can make plays in the midrange on offense and provide versatility defensively? He’ll likely be used in both spots, but whether or not he can thrive at one position will play a part in how much of a role he plays in his first year on the floor.
Elijah Gertrude is the wild card in the Wahoo backcourt. He’ll start the season behind Beekman, McKneely, Harris, and Rohde in the rotation, but there’s absolutely a world where his ability to score the basketball gets him on the floor consistently. How much he plays will probably be more reliant on how well Harris and Rohde play, but if there’s room for a fifth guard in Bennett’s rotation it will be the uber-athletic freshman from Jersey City.
Anthony Robinson and Christian Bliss are both presumably set to redshirt, but you never really know if that’ll happen until the first few games of the season. Robinson is a really fun, athletic prospect in the frontcourt who could make enough noise as one of two Virginia players that is taller than 6’9” to make it worth burning his redshirt.
Bliss will likely be UVA’s sixth or seventh guard and third point guard, making it more likely that he will redshirt as the program’s point guard of the future following Beekman’s departure this offseason. If there were fewer young, talented guards ahead of him (for instance on last year’s team when there were only four guards in the rotation) Bliss could have had a shot at minutes. But if he burns the redshirt he still likely wouldn’t play many more minutes than if he does redshirt.
Taine Murray is the last of the thirteen scholarship players. Obviously he won’t be redshirting, but I suspect he’ll be on the outside looking in at the rotation this year. Murray is a solid depth option to have should injuries occur or the younger players not perform to the degree that many are hoping they will. He provides physicality as a big guard who is a good individual and team defender. At the same time he’s a career 28.6% shooter from deep and doesn’t add much on offense. The Kiwi is a nice piece to have, but his play won’t be making or breaking UVA’s 2023-2024 season.
Altogether this is an exciting team. There’s plenty of youth, plenty of talent, but also plenty of uncertainty. There’s a possibility that Virginia is a top-10 team in the country. There’s also a world where they’re fighting for a tournament spot late in the season. That’s just the nature of how new this roster is and how reliant it is on young guys to step up and for the experienced players to prove themselves capable of playing a new role.
The ‘Hoos tip off on November 6th against Tarleton State. Before then, the team’s Blue-White scrimmage is on October 14th, which we’ll be covering. Be sure to stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn and our Virginia Basketball 2023-2024 Season Countdown for tons of preseason coverage over the next 33 days.