Virginia is the most recent champion and while they didn’t get a chance to defend the title a season ago, they still can maintain their dominance on the sport. Virginia lost De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Jack Salt following the win in overtime against Texas Tech.
The Cavaliers returned only 2 starters to this past season’s team in Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite. This season looked to be a lost season, they went back to old Virginia ways where they just couldn’t score when needed, they lost at home to South Carolina, they lost in Mackay Arena to Purdue by 29 points in an absolute demolishing lost and it was quite embarrassing they had 40 points. They lost a few more head-scratchers, most notably to Boston College, while they also lost at home games to Syracuse and NC State that all happened in December and January. That’s where Tony Bennett worked his magic.
From January 26 – the end of season, the Cavs lost one time, that coming at Louisville by 7 points. They beat Duke, Louisville, and Florida State at home, all of whom were ranked at the time of defeat and the Tony Bennett led team ended the season 23-7. The difference makers down the stretch was the emergence of Tomas Woldentensae and Jay Huff. Early in the season nobody seemed to be able to hit three’s for Virginia and Woldetensae while only averaging 6.6 points per game, he shot 36% from deep and really stepped it up down-the-stretch to hit that percentage, he was super vital. Jay Huff was a member of the National Championship team, but you may have missed him considering he hardly played in the tournament. Huff was a 4th-year Junior last season, as he red-shirted his True Freshman season, Huff was up-and-down this past season but hit double-figures in 14 of his 30 games, he averaged 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Huff is a guy who can shoot also at 36% from deep, he’s 7’1” a great defender. On March 4th, 2020 Huff and UVA played at Miami and he scored the first 17 points for his team, which included three different three-pointers in that span. That just shows the potential Huff has if you just feed him the ball, he’s 7’1”and an above-average 3-point shooter, that is the recipe for success.
Lineup: Kihei Clark, Tomas Woldetensae, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Sam Hauser (Marquette), Jay Huff
Bench: Casey Morsell, Reece Beekman, Francisco Caffaro, Kody Stattmann, Justin McKoy, Carson McCorkie
From this past team they lose Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key. Let’s start with Key who played a vital bench role for the Title Winning 2018-19 squad, he’s a great defender, but shooting was a big problem for Key, he only shot 18% from three while dealing with a broken wrist, I’m sure Key had higher expectations for himself but his wrist injury limited him to a 9.9 point, 7.4 rebound per game average.
Diakite will really be missed in Charlottesville, he averaged 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, he was also a solid-defender, Diakite shot 36% from deep and was huge in the 2018-19 championship run and was the star of this past seasons team, but Huff will step into his shoes and flourish this season.
Coach Bennett adds Trey Murphy (Rice) who is a sit-out guy but is a lot closer to home 3 hours away, I think he has a shot for a waiver but for this we can say he doesn’t so he won’t affect this. Jabri Abdur-Rahim is the son of Former NBA All-Star, Shariff Abdur-Rahim, the Younger Abdur-Rahim is a top-50 prospect and he is highly touted. They add Reece Beekman, who is also a top-70 recruit that is a Point Guard who should play a good role off the bench the next 2 seasons, then replace Kihei Clark once he graduates. If Woldetensae or Casey Morsell struggle like he did early this season he could slide into the 2-Guard spot, but he’s super skinny at 160 pounds but he’s 6’2”. Also in this class they add Carson McCorkie a 3-Star recruit, I don’t see him playing much of a role this season barring injuries. Although he is known as a good 3-Point Shooter, maybe he can be the next Kyle Guy?
The big addition is Sit-Out Transfer, Sam Hauser from Marquette. He’s an elite shooter and can be a good defender but his averages are great 49-40-92 in 2018-19, 49-48-83 in 2017-18 he’s simply incredible at shooting, he should compliment Jay Huff well down-low.
Now let’s take a deep-dive into the roster as a whole… Kihei Clark although is 5’9 is a good defender for his size, solid scorer. He’s a good shooter at 37% last season, and a great facilitator, he averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, which is very good, but his biggest problem is turnovers, he averaged 3.5 a game last season and made some super-risky passes that benefitted the opposing team resulting in a fast-break. That’s not Tony Bennett style Basketball.
Casey Morsell was historically terrible shooting-wise, he went 15-85, good for 17% from three-point range, 27% from the field as-a-whole isn’t much better, he needs to improve simple as that. Francisco Caffaro is a 7-footer and that’s about it for now. Kody Stattmann is a 6’7” guard from Austrilia and known as a good shooter but he hasn’t shown that yet. Round that out by Reece Beekman, Carson McCorkie and that makes for a good bench.
When you have a Coach like Tony Bennett and in this talent, the potential is unlimited.