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UVA basketball mailbag: What’s Buchanan’s ceiling? Where’s Minor? Best lineup?

Answering all the hottest questions about the ‘Hoos after two games!

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 10 Hall of Fame Series - Florida vs Virginia Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers have started their season off with a bang following Friday night’s 73-70 win over the Florida Gators. With the ‘Hoos at 2-0 and approaching home games on Tuesday and Thursday, I collected questions about the squad from UVA twitter for our first in season mailbag!

To get in on the action and add your questions next time, give me (@Zach_Carey_) or STL (@STL_UVA) on the bird app.

Why hasn’t Jordan Minor played? Will he play? Why have his minutes been so sparse despite at one time being the presumed starting center? Is it all because of Buchanan’s success?

Decided to combine the plethora of questions we got about Minor into one extended answer.

I think the bottom line for Minor only playing 11 minutes against Tarleton State and then zero against Florida is that is that there’s nothing that he does better than the rest of UVA’s frontcourt. More specifically, his strengths are matched and surpassed by other players.

When Minor committed in the spring, the idea was he would be a floor setting center who would be solid defensively and could finish looks created for him by others on offense. He’s undersized at 6’8”, but he has the bulk to survive on either end.

At this point, though, especially with Buchanan seamlessly adapting to college basketball, that’s no longer the case. Where Minor added size and some mobility on defense, Buchanan adds more. Where Minor could block some shots, Buchanan can block more. As Minor is an okay finisher off a short roll, Buchanan can dominate and can even be an option to pick and pop. Then if the team wants more of an offensive presence up front, Jake Groves is the answer as a floor spacer.

On the defensive boards and as foul trouble insurance is where I think Minor still provides value. But even then Ryan Dunn is a very good defensive rebounder and Leon Bond adds additional depth.

I do think Minor’s role will probably increase as the season progresses and especially when UVA does play bigger teams again. Transitioning from playing four years of zone defense to the Packline is a real adjustment so he’ll get more comfortable the longer the season goes, and there will be times where UVA needs to go deeper than Buchanan and Groves at the five. But the bottom line remains that his playing time will be far more dependent on the players ahead of him in the rotation than it will be determined by his own performances.

What parts of Rohde’s game game have translated to the higher level of competition? What are things he can still improve on? And what from his game isn’t showing up (yet)?

His shooting has translated in a major way, and the projected increase in efficiency has hit. He’s 3-8 on threes and has been the reliable catch and shoot perimeter threat this team needed. Rohde’s pair of tough midrange jumpers against Florida were also valuable. Simply because he’s taking easier shots his efficiency should be better this season, and we’re seeing that pay off early.

Additionally his size and instincts on the floor stand out on either end. He can defend big guards and even switch when necessary. He also has a knack for disrupting passes, and his IQ has stood out as a passer on Virginia’s out of bounds plays. He’s fundamentally a smart basketball player, and that’s valuable to have in the backcourt.

What hasn’t translated or where he can improve is as a creator for himself. At St. Thomas he was the guy who initiated the offense, typically via a ball screen, and then made plays from there. Logically, that’s not his primary role on this team. Yet when he has attacked the basket or tried to string together dribbles to generate an open look, he’s been hassled and lost control more than he’s made something happen. I think that he’ll get more comfortable the more he plays high level college basketball, and his handle should tighten up. But it’s been an obvious area where he’s had to adjust to a higher level of competition.

Blake Buchanan has the potential to best UVA big since who? Mamadi Diakite? Anthony Gill?

If we’re talking sheer potential, Buchanan has the potential to be the best UVA big since Mike Scott, maybe better. From a pure talent and NBA projection standpoint, he could be even better than Scott. I say that with no hesitation, and as a true center I’d probably have to go even farther back. Candidly my knowledge of UVA’s roster gets a bit hazy before 2011, but the point here is that he is crazy good.

I’m planning to dive deeper into Buchanan’s game and what makes him so freaking good right now once I get through the hellish week of midterms I have ahead of me before Thanksgiving. For now, though, I’ll say this.

Blake Buchanan has truly elite potential. Yeah, 18 points is cool. But that man was like three missed dunks, a couple bobbles in the paint, and some free throws from putting up 25+. Against teams without a Micah Handlogten, he’s going to dominate the paint. He can hit jumpers off a short roll, has the ability to hit a jump hook off a post up against a smaller player, and will only expand his jump shooting range as he gets older.

In two games he’s already as nimble as some of the best frontcourt defenders in the Bennett era, and the 6’11” freshman is only going to get better. If Cory Alexander hadn’t incorrectly told the refs their call was wrong, Buchanan would’ve had a borderline game winning steal. He is somehow already nearly flawless in ball screen coverage, and once he gets his legs under him a little more he’s going to be a next level shot blocker.

Reece Beekman and Ryan Dunn are the two known NBA prospects on this roster right now. Buchanan is third (by a comfortable margin) in my opinion. He is going to be incredibly good for UVA.

Outside of Reece, who do you trust most at the end of games?

I like this question because honestly I’m not really sure. Assuming we’re talking offensively, who I’d trust the most if UVA needs a bucket after Reece is probably Isaac McKneely. Reece is the go-to option, but say he’s fouled out or (God forbid) is dealing with an injury, I think drawing up a play to get McKneely an open jump shot would be the way to go, and it’s where Virginia went a number of times down the stretch against Florida. After that, it’s a boring answer, but using McKneely as a decoy to get Rohde a catch and shoot look is probably the best bet.

For a guy to initiate the offense without Reece, though, the answer is Dante Harris. He can create an open look for himself quite easily, the unknown is if he’ll knock it down. Early against Florida he did it well, but attacking downhill off a ball screen and then pulling up for a midrange jumper isn’t the optimal shot.

In terms of who I purely trust to make a big play in a big moment, though, am I crazy for saying Ryan Dunn? It’s not that I necessarily want a final possession drawn up to get him the ball at this point in his development. But Dunn is just so cool, calm, collected, and under control when the chips are down. He’s already made clutch stops in his career, and his offensive rebound and put-back layup with 1:27 left vs Florida was incredibly important. He also was the guy trying to calm Bennett down after the Alexander-referee debacle.

So either UVA has a lot of guys to turn to in the big moments, or there’s nobody concrete as a secondary answer after Beekman. Seriously though, I think these four are a good complementary group alongside Beekman.

Aren’t you sad Gertrude redshirted?

I guess? It’s always more fun to see young guys play early in their careers than to have to wait. So yeah I’m bummed to not get to see him play this year. But am I sad that they redshirted him beyond the short term disappointment of not getting to see him? Honestly not really.

The whole frustration (from fans) with redshirting is way overblown. Don’t mean to flame the guy, but Isaac Traudt transferred because he was homesick and wanted to go to school with his girlfriend, and that happened to fit with a legit basketball program that was in-state and had recruited him before. I’m not going to get into the Kadin Shedrick transfer because that was ... messy. But that was not a result of him redshirting. A short leash problem? Sure, but that’s a different conversation than this one right now.

Guys have most often transferred from Virginia because they weren’t good enough to play real minutes here in UVA’s system, especially early in their careers. Jabri Abdur-Rahim is a prime example, so is Justin McKoy, so is Casey Morsell (even if he’s carved out a solid role at N.C. State), so is Igor Milicic, so is Carson McCorkle, so is Marco Anthony. Traudt and Shedrick are the two outliers of the post-natty era.

I think Gertrude could’ve contributed to this team winning games this season. He’s more talented than all of the above players who transferred out. I also think he’d be the fifth best guard in a rotation that is going to include at least two 30+ minute per game guards, and who knows exactly when he’d be 100% game ready considering he’s still strengthening his knee after tearing his ACL last year.

If Gertrude transfers out after this year because he’s frustrated that he redshirted, then it’d be an unprecedented decision for this program. If he stays and isn’t good enough to play (which I highly doubt), and then leaves or doesn’t pan out, then the redshirt is irrelevant. And if he’s good for this program (which I think he will be), then he’ll be another redshirt success story for Tony Bennett. I think the program needs to adapt in looking towards the future more, both in-season and for future seasons. But I don’t have a problem with Gertrude redshirting.

Now that we’ve seen Virginia against legit competition, how do you see playing time shaking out in the rest of UVA’s big non-conference games?

I think pretty similarly to how it did against Florida. Groves might see a few more minutes than he did against Florida (he played 16 versus Buchanan’s 27) since few other teams pose that sort of threat on the offensive glass. And Minor could sneak in some minutes with Bond mixing it up a little more too. But Buchanan should be the guy at center.

Dunn is so elite defensively his minutes will stick right around 30 per game. Beekman and McKneely will keep gobbling up similar minutes. Harris (15 minutes vs Florida) might take a few of Rohde’s (team-leading 36), but again I think we got a pretty good look at the pecking order against the Gators.

After a stellar debut, Bond’s minutes were down significantly against Florida. It seems like he could have helped with the rebounding issues in that game. What will it take for him to get more time in the rotation? Why doesn’t he play some at the 3?

The answer’s probably in the question, but I don’t know if we’ll see it this year.

Bond is too small at 6’5” to hang on the boards against a team with the size of Florida that’s committed to crashing the boards. Even if he’s boxing dudes out to Narnia, they can still reach over him to get the ball especially while he’s as slim as he is now. That said I think he’ll get more than four minutes per game throughout ACC play when the defensive boards aren’t under the threat of Micah Handlogten and Tyrese Samuel night in and night out.

Bond playing at the three is an interesting idea to ponder. He’s been a frontcourt player his whole life. Fundamentally he’s an inside scorer with the midrange game to expand outside of it. Right now he lives off having a better motor than anybody else. But what if he channels that smooth shot, that slashing ability, and the footwork into being a perimeter player? I think it’s possible, and probably necessary long term given his height. Yet I don’t think it’s in the cards much this season considering what UVA already has in the backcourt.

What’s your ideal lineup?

Beekman, McKneely, Rohde, Dunn, Buchanan. Balance of everything you want on the floor, no significant weakness anywhere on either end. High ceiling, high floor. Four underclassmen paired with Reece. Think this is the group that will take this team where it goes this season. Groves and Harris are good depth pieces and change ups, and Bond is a fun wild card. But those five are the best five players on this team, and they fit together well.

Thanks for reading, and for asking! Apologies to those with questions I didn’t answer. Figured 2300 words was enough, for now. But as long as the questions keep flowing we’ll keep these mailbags as a consistent part of our coverage this basketball season, so please keep shooting questions our way for future mailbags!