The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team was in the midst of a brutal stretch, stringing together losses in a way that has rarely been seen in the Tony Bennett era. They had fallen in four of their previous six, all with margins of at least 15 points. This past week, however, the ‘Hoos bounced back with two key victories, first handling in-state rival Virginia Tech at home, then winning their first true road game since last February at Georgia Tech.
What has changed? The short answer is...a lot. But ask any UVA fan and they will point to one player in specific: Jordan Minor.
The Merrimack graduate transfer saw the entirety of non-conference play at the end of the bench, and the little playing he saw did not open any eyes. Yes, he had won his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2022-23, but the growing pains of a complete shift in defensive scheme as well as the athleticism jump from the NEC to the ACC were evident. Furthermore, he clearly had no confidence with the ball in his hands on the offensive end.
Of course, what Bennett sees that we don’t see is what goes on in practice. And eventually, in the midst of a losing streak, Minor was given his first UVA start at Wake Forest. The Cavaliers were once again blown out, but Bennett had the confidence to try it again against the Hokies. UVA’s 65-57 victory became formally known as the “Jordan Minor game.” And against the Yellow Jackets, he continued that momentum.
Minor is not a freak athlete and was never deemed to be a the center piece of a team at this level. What he does provide, though, is a true center to anchor the pack line defense, with a little bit of offense mixed in.
Minor’s post defense was an x-factor in the win over Virginia Tech. Hokies center Lynn Kidd, who is otherwise averaging over 14 points per game, was held to just two points in this one.
Here, Minor manages to stay in front of Kidd even with his deep post positioning and forces a travel violation. He is not likely to sky high and block a shot attempt but is aware that he has enough length and a particularly strong frame, and simply trusts his footwork rather than panicking and fouling. Of course, any physical center will have their share of fouls but Minor’s 7.8 fouls per 100 possessions in three starts is a lot more serviceable than the previous season average of 9.2.
Perhaps even more importantly, Kidd rarely established the aforementioned deep post positioning over the course of the game. He was held to just three field goal attempts because Minor battled to keep him away from the basket. When Kidd did get the ball, he often forced to pass the ball away.
This possession right here is perhaps the most impressive from Minor all season. Even on the second post-up attempt, Kidd is forced into a tough fadeaway and a bad miss. Minor finishes the possession with a rebound.
Because of how solid Minor is in the post, a full double team is usually not required, which provides a significant boost to UVA’s perimeter defense.
Minor’s development in the pack line scheme specifically is also critical in this respect. After spending four years operating in a 2-3 zone, Bennett’s man-to-man principles were almost foreign to him. In this three game stretch, Minor looks a lot more comfortable.
Again, he is not the quickest and most athletic big but he has enough body control to play within he system. Watch how Minor hedges the ball screen to prevent the ball-handler’s dribble penetration and smoothly retreats to prevent the post feed. The rest of the defense rotates in order to heavily contest the eventual shot, which ultimately is a miss.
Another hedge to cut off the dribbler’s momentum but does not overcommit and recovers easily. Leads to confusion and a turnover.
Minor will never be a stat stuffer on the defensive end. He does not rack up double digit boards, or get Ryan Dunn and Reece Beekman amounts of steals and blocks. But, to reiterate, he anchors this side of the ball and elevates the unit as a whole.
With Minor on the court over the last three games, UVA’s opponents shoot 4.7 percentage points worse in effective field goal percentage, have a worse assist/turnover ratio by a margin of 0.21, and their offensive rebounding rate decreases from 77th percentile to 18th.
Oh, and by the way, Minor is Virginia’s current best true center option on the offensive end as well. He is coming off of back to back double digit scoring games.
Opposing defenses will pay closest attention to Beekman, Isaac McKneely, and sometimes Dante Harris because the Cavaliers do not have much of a post-up offense. This goes back to the theme I’ve emphasized throughout the feature: playing within the scheme.
Almost all year long, opponents have been able to heavily pursue UVA’s guards, and there has been no front court presence to neutralize it. Minor acts as a facilitator, clearing space for shooters and ball handlers, while being a threat to roll to the basket. His offensive surge over the last two games has been due to defenses failing to account for this new element.
The sides offense in its most basic form. Minor sets a pin down and re-screens until eventually Beekman gets free for an open corner three.
Same concept here but he slips behind the defense for the easy flush.
The pick and roll is how Minor made his living at Merrimack. This skillset is nothing new. But having the confidence to execute is a recent development. Minor has finished on four dunks in the last two games. Often, a misplaced defender will make a business decision to not contest the shot. Otherwise, Minor is powerful enough to get to the line, where he is 16/24 (66.7%) this year, which slightly above his career average mark.
Do not expect Minor to average upwards of ten points per game down the stretch, but the fact that he has to be accounted for by opposing defenses will open things up for the more established scorers. The bottom line is that Minor is a defense-first player and an important one. His next task: DJ Burns and NC State.