The Virginia Cavaliers are on exam break, so it seemed like the right time for another UVA basketball mailbag! After polling Virginia hoops Twitter for questions, I’ve penned my answers as we approach the last bit of non-conference play for the ‘Hoos.
What’s your best guess at the rotation for ACC play? And do you think it will be 8, 9, or 10 guys?
I think Reece Beekman, Ryan Dunn, Isaac McKneely, and Andrew Rohde are the four rotation stalwarts who are going to be playing 30+ minutes regardless of the competition. After that Jake Groves will be in the rotation, and Blake Buchanan looks to have a comfortable lead on Jordan Minor as the backup center.
Then things get a little bit more complex. The nature of Dante Harris’ injury and what little info Virginia’s put out about it makes it hard to know if/when he’ll be back. Assuming he does return before too long, I think he still plays the fourth most guard minutes... although Elijah Gertrude could push him there (more on that in a minute). Then I think Leon Bond’s minutes will be very opponent dependent.
So... probably around 8.5? Beekman, Dunn, McKneely, Rohde, Groves, Buchanan, Harris, Bond, and Gertrude are my nine for now with the last three a bit in the air and Taine Murray and Minor on the outside looking in. Murray is nice situational depth and, while he’s struggled so far, Minor has the potential to improve and provide size up front against certain competition.
If we want to be contenders, how important is the Groves piece of the puzzle?
He’s a pretty integral piece of the puzzle. His play alongside the other four starters has given the offense some real life in the last three wins, and he’s coming along fairly well defensively given his physical limitations.
For Virginia to be a legitimate national title contender, Groves needs to continue to hit from deep at a really high rate. He’s currently at 42.3% on just under three attempts per game. Jacking that volume up some is the way to go (which will partially happen naturally as he keeps playing more minutes). Then he needs to not be a net negative on defense and be able to hang against the real bruisers. It’s a tough ask, but that’s part of what UVA needs to do to reach that elite level season.
How impactful could Gertrude be in displacing Harris from the rotation? Where do you see Gertrude fitting in if Isaac stays for another two years (assuming G is more suited to the 2 than as a PG)?
Starting with the first question, it’s entirely possible that Gertrude could eat into Harris’ minutes. What’s Harris best at? Being a capable ball handler/offensive initiator and a quick and pesty point of attack defender.
In three games we’ve already seen Gertrude be a decent ball handler/offensive initiator and a good point of attack defender. He doesn’t have the handles or the ability to create offense off a ball screen that Harris does, but he’s arguably a better shooter and a more versatile defender whose length especially stands out relative to Harris.
✈️ E- Gertrude✈️ pic.twitter.com/USPdmd6O3o— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) December 2, 2023
As impact goes Gertrude replacing Harris would raise the team’s ceiling because that would mean he’s a capable backup point guard and is playing relentlessly defensively and utilizing his raw athleticism. He’s flashed as a scorer off the dribble, something he might already be slightly better at than Harris. So were he to replace Harris (when healthy) that would mean he’s playing to his potential.
I’ll briefly say Isaac staying two more seasons is probably a bit ambitious. Guys who are built like he is and shoot the ball like he does don’t stay in college for much longer than it takes scouts to decide he’s playable defensively, and that’s what this program specializes in.
But if IMac sticks around and Rohde presumably does too, I’m starting to wonder if the plan is to use Gertrude at the point. Next season in particular is interesting. In a post-Reece world, the options before Gertrude burned his redshirt seemed to be Harris, Christian Bliss, and/or outside transfer with Gertrude being a depth piece at shooting guard.
Now that we’ve seen Gertrude on the floor be capable of bringing the ball up and starting the offense, I’m sorta starting to think he might be the answer as a Walmart-version of Reece next year and potentially for the year after. That’s fairly dependent on how good Rohde and McKneely are and how much they can initiate the offense themselves. Yet Gertrude has the talents and the traits as a combo guard to start at the point with Rohde providing support and Harris and Bliss being options off the bench. That simply makes the most sense to me right now knowing what we know about his potential on either end.
Bond has shown great energy and a knack for scoring against lesser opponents. He has been largely missing from games against better competition. Why do you think there is such a significant difference? Size? Confidence? Coach confidence? PT?
Size and coach confidence are probably the biggest reasons. There’s more room for error against the NC Centrals of the world than Texas A&M, so giving Bond opportunities to establish himself in the mid-post is less of an issue if it goes downhill.
Then, beyond that, Bond just doesn’t quite have the build (yet) to do what he does best against the biggest and longest guys in college basketball. He could definitely adjust, and he will over time. Immediately though his contributions against legit competition are going to be most reliant on his ability to be a complementary guy on either end without making mistakes and while hitting the occasional midrange pull-up when the offense needs it.
What will a normal shooting night look like for McKneely? He can’t keep shooting 6-8 from three every game, right? Wait, can he shoot 75% from three every night?
Hey, if anybody can it’s him.
Realistically I think seven attempts per game is legitimately the number McKneely should be floating around. Kyle Guy took 7.4 per in 2019. McKneely is that good, and even if he struggles for a night then he’s still impacting the offense by being a constant threat to defenses that are going to have to focus on running him off the line. That will create opportunities for everybody elsewhere.
If you could take one Bennett era Hoo in his UVA prime and put him on this team, who would you pick? Alternatively, same question excluding guys who played in the NBA?
Mike Scott. Honestly a weirdly easy one. Yeah you can always make the argument for one of the other elite guys (Brogdon, Hunter, Guy, Jerome, Harris, etc.). But I think Scott would fit really freaking well on this team, help fix the defensive rebounding/interior size problem, and provide elite interior scoring and offensive creation on the other end.
Just thinking about it is pretty fun. I think this group with Scott is a top-5 team in the country and bonafide contender. Also, Mike Scott deserves more credit for establishing the foundation of this program early in CTB’s time. So yeah, shoutout Mike Scott.
Of the guys who didn’t make the NBA, Akil Mitchell is a good one to simply lock everything up defensively. Maybe this speaks to the fanbase’s collective obsession with defense, but Mitchell would make this defense the best in the country.
What can this team do to maximize the fast break? Feels like with Beekman initiating, multiple athletic finishers, and McKneely trailing the break can be a real weapon.
They’ve actually been really good in transition, and have been running more this season largely because of the opportunities they’ve been creating defensively. UVA’s 18.7 second average offensive possession mark (per KenPom) is the lowest of the Bennett era (and 317th nationally) with only three CTB Virginia teams coming within a second. The ‘Hoos are also the 57th most efficient team in transition, per ShotQuality, as they’ve scored 1.35 points per possession.
The biggest hurdle in their way is on the defensive glass. Committing the resources they do to going back to track down the ball prevents guys like Dunn, Bond, and Gertrude from getting down the floor on the wings and creating outlet passes and transition looks. That’s not news; that’s something Bennett has been willing to sacrifice forever. But especially for this team that needs all the help it can get because the frontcourt is undersized, that makes it difficult to run on more than the 8% of possessions the Cavaliers do right now.
As for maximizing the fast break, get the ball to Reece ASAP, continue to find McKneely as a trailer, and trust the athletes to make plays when available. Virginia’s done a good job taking some pressure off the settled offense so far this season. The test is whether they can afford to try and capitalize at the same efficiency against serious competition down the line.
What in the world happened to Blake Buchanan? He’s looked totally lost since Florida?
Two things, really. Buchanan got humbled by Steven Crowl and came back down to earth a bit as a defender, and UVA changed up its offensive scheme that puts more onus on the bigs to make plays and quick decisions, benefitting Groves and limiting Buchanan in comparison.
Virginia is now running an offense which is built to benefit off of Groves’ strengths, accounting for the net negative he tends to be on defense by more explicitly taking advantage of what he’s best at on the other end. So, when Buchanan enters and is asked to do complicated things on offense then he’s going to look more lost because he can’t replicate Groves’ skill-set. Then, defensively, Groves has been more comfortable and UVA’s been deploying Dunn well to limit the damage such that Buchanan is no longer significantly better on defense.
Maybe I hyped him up too much early on. But Buchanan has still had a good start to his college career, and Virginia’s not going to be able to live and die by playing nearly 40 minutes of their inside triangle offense all season long. And opponents who are bigger bullies in the paint will come up on the schedule. So Blake will have his moments, Groves is simply having some of his right now.
I think Ryan Dunn can be more dangerous if he can improve his 3 point shot. I’m sure he’s been working hard on it. Do you think he can get a better shooting percentage from 3 by tournament time?
Yeah, probably. He’s 4-19 (21.1%) from three this season. I think he could realistically hit 30% given what he’s shown as a shooter. He’s also already taken three more threes than he did all of last season, so this is a definite area of experiment for him. Thus far he seems like the type of shooter who needs to see one fall in a game before continuing to take and make them.
You’re right that the missing piece of the puzzle for Dunn is the outside shooting. Players also don’t typically improve as shooters within a season much beyond the law of averages playing out. He has the makings of a good shooter, but I fear for UVA’s sake that that will happen after he’s already been drafted.
Fortunately what Dunn does do well he does to an absolute elite level defensively and offensively. If he can at least be a respectable outside threat then this offense will be more difficult to defend.