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UVA basketball mailbag: Super seniors, offseason approach, and what it’ll take to make the tournament

Answering the most pressing questions from the Wahoo fanbase.

Louisville v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

As the Virginia Cavaliers hit their final stretch of the regular season, I’ve taken questions from the UVA twitter-verse about this team, the program’s future, and more.

What’s the actual possibility that Kihei/Jayden come back next year as super seniors? How would that affect next years roster outlook? Would someone have to transfer? A guy in next year’s stacked freshman class redshirt?

For starters, I think there’s a real chance one or both of Gardner and Clark return. There was smoke over the offseason that Clark was considering using his extra fifth year, but it does seem fairly unknown as of now what he’s thinking.

Gardner on the other hand is really the perfect mold for a player who would utilize his fifth year. He was passed over by high major schools out of high school, proved himself dominant at East Carolina, and then transferred out once he no longer had to redshirt. Had the immediate transfer rule been passed earlier, he likely would’ve transferred out earlier. Considering he’s only had one season of high major play, it’s reasonable that he may want to get another crack at it next year and further his professional chances — likely overseas.

In terms of the roster outlook, that honestly wouldn’t affect too much. It’s expected that Leon Bond will redshirt anyway so — assuming Kody Stattmann leaves — that takes up the maximum thirteen roster spots with twelve active and Bond redshirting. Now, there could always be a transfer out that could lessen that number. But Gardner and Clark staying wouldn’t have too extreme of an effect.

That said, it would mean some younger guys don’t get the early opportunities they would if those two don’t come back.

Will Virginia pursue transfer talent this offseason - especially if Kihei is finished?

In the same vein, roster moves for next season do depend on the decisions of the super seniors. If Clark leaves, the ‘Hoos will likely be in the market for a depth piece at point guard to play alongside and as depth for Reece Beekman. If not, they’re set with Clark to complement Reece.

If Gardner leaves, there could be a push for a similar type of big man in the transfer market. Considering the returning front-court would be Kadin Shedrick, Fransisco Caffaro, and Igor Milicic Jr. with Isaac Traudt coming in, there’s not much experience at the four. It’d be awesome to see Milicic or Traudt step in right away, but that’s unlikely.

With sufficient roster space, there’s no reason Bennett wouldn’t look to add some experience up front without Gardner around. Not a must considering next season will likely be another rebuilding year. But no significant reason not to see what’s out there.

What changes have you seen in our offensive scheme? Are the guys given a green light to shoot early? Greater emphasis on mid-range shots vs. 3 pointers?

There haven’t been any truly drastic changes in the offensive scheme. Bennett’s been largely running sides but has catered it to the personnel. For instance, rather than the bigs popping to the corners after setting pin down screens, they’ll either roll to the hoop or utilize the positioning to post up.

There’s been some incorporation of ball screens as well, but that’s nothing new. The only difference this year has been — instead of playing the three guys not involved in the screen on the perimeter — the big not setting the screen seals his man off in the lane. That’s simply because UVA’s bigs this year aren’t the shooters of teams’ past.

There has been an additional emphasis on taking mid-range jumpers, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a conscious decision to take them over threes. UVA has taken 42 more long two’s than three’s this year. It, again, merely comes down to personnel. Jayden Gardner is shooting 48.7% (56-115) from the midrange versus 33.3% from three (on just nine attempts). Armaan Franklin is shooting 52.6% from the midrange compared to 26.7% from deep.

Yes, threes are analytically more valuable. But you have to make them for that to work out. With where this team’s strengths are, it makes sense that those guys are taking a high volume of long two’s. The midrange isn’t dead, it’s merely limited to being circumstantially efficient.

Also unrelated to this years squad but what’s the latest on Bobi Klintman? Are we still recruiting him? Would think he would fill that athletic stretch 4 maybe even small ball 5.

UVA’s set with their 2022 class and have been since they got their fourth commitment. They’re on to 2023 and 2024. Traudt is the stretch four and small ball five for that group while Bond and Dunn are also set to take up spots on the wing. It would take a bunch of transfers out and Klintman sticking around until the spring for there to even be a chance.

Tough stretch of games coming up. What are you looking for from the team over the next month, especially against top-tier competition? What would you like to see Bennett prioritize the rest of the season to make the most of this year and build for next year?

Consistency consistency consistency. This team’s biggest problem has been consistency. There’s talent on this roster. There’s savvy. And there’s no reason why this team can’t go on a run if the right pieces fall in the right places. The ‘Hoos have to play clean ball by taking care of the ball, securing the defensive glass, and quite simply making shots.

There have been positive signs of late. Reece Beekman is hitting his stride, both Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro are playing confidently, and Kihei Clark is comfortable in his role. It’s just going to take this team playing well together at the same time. There’s stiff competition coming up so maybe my assessment is far too optimistic. But there’s a chance. And that’s all Tony Bennett needs.

As for next season, yeah I’d love to see Taine or Igor get some spot minutes. But I’ve frankly come to accept that that’s not what this staff is planning on doing. They want to win games and they feel this seven man group is their best shot at doing that.

Do you feel that Taine has played out of position at times this year as a small ball 4 due to necessity for not having a back up to Gardner and as a result of him being overmatched against bigs, has that affected his playing time as the season has progressed?

Honestly it’s been less out of necessity for not having an obvious backup for Gardner and more just where the coaching staff is comfortable with him playing. He’s had issues handling the ball which has relegated him to those small-ball four minutes. And when he’s gotten those chances he’s been good.

He’s a freshman so there are going to be ups and downs. But he’s guarded fairly well and has impressed as a blocker considering he is playing out of position.

Have you seen any change in recruiting strategy the past year since the transfer rules changed or just in general? What kind of bigs are we looking to match with Traudt? Is there a need for that athletic bouncy 4 still?

Transfer recruiting starts up far sooner, that’s for sure. It’s all behind the scenes and doesn’t have to be shady but people talk and are aware when a guy is considering it. As for pairing bigs with Traudt, the top big prospect for the 2023 class was originally Gregory Jackson. But with him blowing up since UVA offered him in April, the Wahoo staff will have to move on.

There honestly hasn’t been a ton of action in 2023 recruiting of late. It’s the season so that makes sense. And Bennett is in a good position already in the class so there’s no need to panic. Additionally, Leon Bond should pair well with Traudt in a small front-court. Of course there is still value in getting the bouncy big. But in reality that guy won’t be playing the four at UVA anymore, he’ll be playing center.

Why might Tony actually be using Kody correctly? Seen lots of doubters, but curious what the other argument might be.

Honestly Kody probably gets more hate than he deserves, and I may be a part of that. He’s not a bad player. He’s had his moments this season and has noticeably improved in a few areas. Entering the season as a 26.1% three-point shooter, he’s shot 38.9% this season and has given good minutes as a small ball four and as the only real backcourt depth.

What’s out of control for Stattmann is his short and long term potential. He’s a constant who is going to be in the right spots defensively and can hit a few shots offensively but not much more.

In the long run there’s more value to playing Taine Murray or Igor Milicic Jr. But the known quantity of Stattmann is what Bennett prefers for now.