The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team tips off its 2023-2024 season a in a week! With tipoff rapidly approaching, I solicited questions from the fine folks over on UVA Twitter for our last preseason basketball mailbag.
CTB said at ACC media day that there might be 7-8 starters with the first 5 based on the game matchup. Who do you think the 7-8 are at this point and who do you think will start against Tarleton State? — @guyncville
If it’s eight guys right now I’m banking on it being Beekman, McKneely, Dunn, Minor, Harris, Rohde, Bond, and Groves. I personally would put Buchanan over Groves, but I think Bennett will probably value the shooting and experience more than I would. Gertrude is probably slightly too raw, and I don’t believe Taine Murray does one thing well enough to be a starter.
Against Tarleton State I think it’ll be Beekman, Harris, McKneely, Dunn, and Minor. Again I’d prefer Rohde or Bond over Harris. But I think Bennett will want the ball handling and ball pressure Harris provides and will be confident in him now that he’s been with the program since January. Minor is the most reliable of the true bigs on this team right now, but Groves could very well get starts early in non-con play. Buchanan is my darkhorse to be starting later in the season.
If only one of the freshmen has an on-court impact this season, would you rather it be Blake or Elijah? — @Adrian_Vigil
Buchanan by a country mile. All due respect and love to Gertrude, he’s a special player and he should be really good for Virginia. But Buchanan fills a major position of need up front and has the higher ceiling as a freshman. If he’s making a tangible impact this year, that means one of the team’s bigger unknowns has an answer. Meanwhile if Gertrude is playing it probably means one or both of Harris and Rohde disappointed.
Who has a better chance of winning DPOY for both the ACC and Naismith Dunn or Beekman? — @HoozDefense
For ACC it’s likely Beekman because the voters are familiar with him. And, from my understanding, teams can only nominate one player for the award, and I’d think Bennett would be most likely to nominate Beekman. For Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, as I projected in my 10 bold predictions for this season, I think it’s Dunn. For a national award like that you need the raw numbers to win it and, with a heavy increase in playing time, Dunn is more likely to have the requisite block and steal averages for it. Forward defenders are also typically more easily celebrated than guards, so yeah, Dunn.
There’s a backlog of guys vying for the 3 (Harris pushing McNeely over, Rohde, Bond, Taine, and Gertrude). How would you break up minutes between these guys early and projecting to later in the year in the most optimistic outlook for this team? — @ddaley1985
To answer this I’m just gonna go ahead and divide up the 200 minutes up and then I’ll go deeper into my reasoning specifically around the third guy in the backcourt. I’m ignoring blowout minutes, so this is a projection of minutes played against legit competition in non-conference play. Bolded are starters.
Beekman: 35 MPG
Harris: 23 MPG
McKneely: 30 MPG
Dunn: 30 MPG
Minor: 25 MPG
Rohde: 18 MPG
Groves: 15 MPG
Bond: 15 MPG
Buchanan: 9 MPG
Guess I’m hedging my bets here. I think this will change pretty drastically as the season progresses. I suspect Minor’s minutes will decrease and Buchanan’s will increase. This was an interesting exercise because it makes you realize how many fringe starters there are on this team who could easily play 30 minutes in one game and then 10 in the next. I think Bennett’s comment about there being 7-8 capable starters speaks to that.
Sorry, got sidetracked. As for splitting minutes at the “three” or the third backcourt spot, I think it’ll start with Harris getting more opportunities because of the trust factor. From there how well Bond plays will determine how much he or Dunn play at the three (considering the ‘Hoos probably want Bond to play at the four) and how much of a scoring and shooting impact Rohde brings will be what to watch as the season progresses.
In the most optimistic outlook, Rohde and Bond ball out. Rohde hits 39% from three on legit volume and scores like 10 PPG with Bond being a perfect defensive complement on the wing alongside Dunn. UVA kills teams with a small ball death lineup of Beekman-McKneely-Rohde-Bond-Dunn with Harris as the perfect option if they need more of a defensive presence against certain opponents. Harris is a really good player. I just think he lacks the ceiling of the other two.
All due respect to Taine, as I said before I don’t think he’s particularly good enough at one thing to get serious minutes on this team. I also love Gertrude long term, but in a best case scenario he’s a changeup option to rely on when guys get in foul trouble.
What role will Bond be in? — @RegularBraveFan
The burning question nobody really knows the answer to. I think Bond will play 75% of his minutes as a four/blocker offensively who can be flexible with who he guards on defense. I also think he’ll sit around 15 minutes per game on the season with his PT largely dependent on the opponent. He could absolutely creep up to 20 minutes, maybe even 25. But that 13-18 MPG range seems most likely to me.
Last year’s team seemed to miss a ton of free throws in late-game situations. Do you think that will be a problem again this year and who do you think should be on the court during those times? — @SemiOrigContent
I think it absolutely could be a problem again this year. There aren’t a ton of established good free throw shooters on this team, and there are a few bad ones — Jake Groves is a career 68.7% from the line, Jordan Minor is 51.8%, Ryan Dunn is 50% (albeit on 22 attempts).
In late clock scenarios when you know the other team is fouling, I’m going small. Beekman (77.7%), Harris (79.8%), Rohde (80.7%), McKneely (70.8% but on only 24 attempts), and Dunn (again, 50% but only on 22 attempts) would be my five out of a timeout. I know, that’s small. But Groves and Minor can’t be options. And, as long as you can trust the five who are out there to make at least one attempt if it’s a one-and-one, then you can substitute for defense after the first free throw. Bond should be a respectable free throw shooter if Bennett wants more length out there.
Up 2 against Duke with 6 seconds left and they have the ball out of the timeout — what 5 are you putting out there? — @dr3wl3st3r
This one is probably pretty dependent on who Duke roles with. If it’s a three guard lineup with Jermey Roach, Tyrese Proctor, and Caleb Foster on the floor then I’d want to roll with more mobility. If it’s a two guard, two forward, one center grouping, then obviously we’d want to go bigger.
I think either way though Dante Harris, Reece Beekman, and Ryan Dunn are the starting points. I want Dunn on Kyle Filipowski, no questions asked. Beekman probably takes Proctor, assuming he’s the most dangerous of the guards. Then Harris likely takes Roach.
Leon Bond is the next guy I’d want out there. He can pick up a bigger guard like Caleb Foster (or Proctor if Foster or one of the other guards is cooking and Beekman matches up with them), but could also slide down to guard a forward such as TJ Power or Mark Mitchell.
The fifth spot is where I’m admittedly uncertain. Obviously you probably need some size. But I think Dunn, even despite the height difference, is easily the best matchup for Filipowski. If Sean Stewart or Ryan Young is on the floor, then Jordan Minor should match up with them. That said, if there’s only six seconds left, hiding McKneely on one of the guards or Minor on the worst forward (even if it’s Mitchell or Power) is fine.
Final answer: Dante Harris, Reece Beekman, Leon Bond, Ryan Dunn, and Jordan Minor with McKneely as an alternate for Minor if Duke goes small. Gertrude is the real darkhorse option for if there are more guards than bigs out there for the Blue Devils, but I doubt Bennett would throw him out there unless he was already playing a meaningful role.