In comments made on a The Field of 68 podcast, former Syracuse Orange basketball coach Jim Boeheim said that the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team’s talent “isn’t anywhere near where it’s been,” and that “NIL is a problem,” for Tony Bennett.
The beginning of the end for Tony Bennett at Virginia?— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) December 20, 2023
“The NIL is a problem for Tony right now. I don’t think he’s even remotely on board with any of this” - @therealboeheim
After Dark with Jim Boeheim is LIVE:https://t.co/pDZfE7W3wp pic.twitter.com/AfvpoJCSMD
While Boeheim emphasized his respect for Bennett and praised him for being the best defensive coach in college basketball, he also pointed out that there is “a pretty big drop off,” after Reece Beekman from a talent perspective. He commented on what UVA lost in the offseason and went on to say that “I don’t think [Tony] is on board with any part,” of NIL.
Now, let’s break down some of these comments.
Boeheim makes some fair points that, right now, there is a noticeable drop in game-to-game impact after Beekman. And they did lose a lot of experience with Jayden Gardner, Ben Vander Plas, Kihei Clark, and Armaan Franklin graduating and Kadin Shedrick transferring out. Virginia has also been blown out by 20 points twice so far this year. So wondering about the state of the team is fair.
That being said, if you’re gonna make these comments, then really do your homework, Jim. The comment about the lack of talent is silly. Yes, UVA doesn’t have the experience that the program has had in the past, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.
Virginia has three freshmen who were all top-100, four star recruits and have already made an impact on this year’s team. Ryan Dunn is a projected 2024 NBA first round pick. Andrew Rohde was an all-conference first teamer as a freshman. Isaac McKneely is one of the best shooters in the country, and was a top-50 recruit out of high school.
UVA has six underclassmen in its nine man rotation. For comparison, Wisconsin and Memphis (the Wahoos’ two losses) have a combined three. Virginia has 36 total starts from underclassmen this season. Those two squads combined have only three!
From a talent perspective, Tony Bennett’s program is in a fine place. Better than fine, a really good place relative to college basketball. Where the ‘Hoos are lacking is in experience which is why there is significant room for improvement for this team this season. Blake Buchanan, Elijah Gertrude, Leon Bond, Isaac McKneely, Andrew Rohde, and Dunn are all primed to be better, more impactful players in February and March than they’ve been in November and December. Heck, even upperclassmen transfer Jake Groves and Jordan Minor are set up to improve as well.
Transitioning to Boeheim’s NIL comments, the Virginia basketball program is in a perfectly respectable place. Beekman alone has NIL deals with McDonald’s and Rhoback. Beekman and Dunn are both in On3’s top-100 ranking of NIL Valuation among men’s college basketball players.
Is UVA and Charlottesville comparable to the biggest brands and markets in college basketball like Duke, UNC, Kentucky, or Miami? Not necessarily, but at the same time it’s not the absolutely highest rated players chasing immediate success and a quick payday that have succeeded under Bennett, and UVA has a more recent national championship than all four of those schools. If Bennett isn’t on board with NIL, it hasn’t had a tangible impact on the program’s recruiting or its players. Isn’t that what matters?
Boeheim wasn’t speaking from a place of disrespect, and he might have a better idea of Tony Bennett’s current head space regarding his future as a coach than many. But, at the same time, if you’re going to posit to speak from an area of expertise about the status of this year’s team, then it’d probably be worth being able to name more than one player on the roster.