Finally after what seemed like an excruciatingly long wait, the Virginia basketball team returned to action over the last week. The results out of the gate met expectations as the Cavaliers cruised to two easy wins against UNC Greensboro and St. Francis-Brooklyn.
Now that we’ve seen the Hoos in action, there is plenty to discuss. That’s a great time to bring back the questions from the fans for our “Ask The Sabre” series. This feature is brought to you by our newest sponsor Bundoran Farm, where you can Create Your Virginia Legacy. To see the “Ask The Sabre” articles in the archives, just click here. Visit Bundoran Farm here.
With so much talented depth on the roster, a pair of announced redshirts, and more in mind, let’s dive in. The response was so great, I’ll answer more of the questions Friday!
The most uncertainty early on rests with the wings. How do you see the minutes shuffling out early on at the 2 and 3 positions? ~ CDCHoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: This is a preseason question that didn’t gain much clarity after two romps by UVA. A couple of things helped clear it up a little bit, though. One, Virginia coach Tony Bennett announced the intention to redshirt freshmen De’Andre Hunter and Jay Huff. Two, Ty Jerome saw action on the floor in each of the first two games.
In the first two games where the average margin of victory landed at 32.5 points, the minutes sifted throughout the roster. Here’s the breakdown:
- London Perrantes 26-25
- Devon Hall 23-21
- Darius Thompson 23-19
- Marial Shayok 20-18
- Kyle Guy 19-21
- Ty Jerome 9-10
Knowing that Bennett generally plays five perimeter players with a sixth situationally possible, that looks about right for early in the season. I think it will probably continue to look like that in any of these tune-up games vs. the likes of say Iowa and Ohio State in the coming weeks. That might apply to Yale too this Sunday.
In the contests where the scoreboard advantage isn’t likely to climb into the 20’s and beyond, I would expect to see Perrantes in the 30-35 range with Hall, Thompson, and Shayok in the 20-25 range. Guy probably falls just a little south of that, probably in the 18-23 range, until the coaches can track his adjustment to college basketball over a bigger sample size. Jerome may not see action in some of the closer games with backup point guard minutes going to Thompson and Hall instead. Obviously if everyone played the max range from above, that’s too many minutes (133 vs. 120 available) but the overall point stands.
What does the recent redshirt announcement imply for the rest of the Virginia basketball team? ~ ChrisH
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Since I already mentioned the redshirts above, let’s tackle this one next. The fact that UVA can redshirt players with incoming talent like Hunter and Huff is somewhat mind-boggling isn’t it? Even knowing that Virginia climbed the ranks nationally in recent seasons, that’s not a luxury that anyone could have predicted for Bennett’s program development.
First, let me say that I am surprised by the decision. (Note, by surprised I don’t mean I disagree with it.) Why? I thought that Hunter and Huff brought the most unique skill sets to the table in some way. Hunter provides the temptation or ability to go ‘small ball’ with someone not really that small – he’s 6’7” with wing span well above 7’. Huff brings a face-up post player with extended 3-point range that gives most teams fits in pick-and-pop situations. Valuable tools in a long season.
But that brings the conversation back to the original question. What does the decision say about the rest of the roster? I take two very important things from it. One, the coaches are comfortable that they have an answer to teams with the dangerous mobile power forward like Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame. That could be individual or team scheme related, but they feel like they can address any matchups with the available personnel.
Two, the coaches have a lot of confidence in the other five post players. Austin Nichols, Jack Salt, and Isaiah Wilkins are all in at least their third year of college basketball. Jarred Reuter and Mamadi Diakite aren’t as experienced – each in their second year, though Diakite’s is as a redshirt freshman – but provide specific lineup looks.
Through two games, I see the various options the coaches do with those two questions and I’ll remain interested in how it plays out.
Who can we trust to guard perimeter 4’s like Jaron Blossomgame this year? Definite soft spot in our defense last year, and no obvious answer from the returnees. ~ StLouHoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Conveniently, that segues right into this question. The mobile, face-up, dribble drive capable, 3-point threat, not as much of a unicorn now a days ’4’ or power forward. Blossomgame is the poster child for this question because he torched the Hoos to the tune of 23 points-6 rebounds-1 assist and 31 points-5 rebounds-1 assist in the two matchups last season. And that was with fire blanket Malcolm Brogdon available defensively.
It’s important to remember, however, that even though it might seem like it, this is not only a recent challenge for the Pack Line. The face-up/isolation forward at the 4 spot always has challenged Virginia’s scheme. C.J. Leslie from NC State is one name I regularly use in these conversations, but more examples can include Duke’s Jabari Parker, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair (Jerami Grant was hurt and played only 13 minutes in the 2014 matchup as Cuse went to a small ball look mostly), and others too.
Why? The type of players in question provide offensive options that can challenge the rules of the Pack Line. Specifically, opposing coaches can isolate these players somewhere on the floor other than the low block – often just off the elbows – and eliminate post trap and post dig options, while creating space with possible shooters at the other three guard spots. Also, a lot of these players can catch the ball out toward the corner and then dribble into the post vs. just catching it in the post. UVA can deal with that, but it does challenge the timing of any post help and it features different rules than the ‘no catch’ one around the rim.
So back to the question. Who does UVA go to against these players? My thoughts in order: Isaiah Wilkins, Mamadi Diakite, and Marial Shayok. Wilkins has the experience of dealing with these matchups plus better rim protection behind him potentially. He’s also about 15 pounds lighter than the start of last season. He’ll get the first crack at these matchups every single game this season I suspect.
I’d guess Diakite gets a first half chance to slow down or challenge these matchups if Wilkins struggles or gets in foul trouble. He’s the athletic antidote to the problem if not the experienced one. If Diakite can’t do it, I think a trimmed down Shayok – he’s 15 to 20 pounds lighter than a year ago too – gets the opportunity to play Brogdon’s role from a year ago while the Hoos go to four guards.
The reverse of StLouHoo’s question: Which Hoo present match up nightmares for opposing defenses. I’m thinking Shayok, and man would it be nice to see improved handle from him this season. ~ Sabre Rattler
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Right now, I agree with you. Shayok brings the toughest blend to defend. He’s 6’5” but with more length than that. He’s strong at 196 pounds. He can hit spot-up shots well enough to force sloppy closeouts. He can attack. He can get his own shot off the dribble with a mix of deceptive quickness and the ability to shoot awkward form shots.
Looking for an example from the first two games? The off-the-glass pull-up jumper in the first half against St. Francis comes to mind. Simply put, Shayok is the closest thing Virginia has to the offensive options discussed in the previous question. He can be isolated in spots where it is tough to play help defense or he can get shots within the context of what UVA does.
I’ll throw this wrinkle in there, though. London Perrantes and Kyle Guy possibly can provide a Joe Harris type of matchup nightmare within Virginia’s scheme. If the Hoos want to, they can put either one of those guys into overdrive mode in the ‘sides’ motion scheme and just run, run, run them off of screens with dummy motion for a few passes before putting them in a catch position to be dangerous.
Teams that are balanced offensively can have difficulty determining which player takes key shots in critical situations. Given that London Perrantes’ strength is not breaking down his defender to get off a shot, who do you see emerging as a ‘go to’ player in late game, late shot clock situations? ~ 105A
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Like some of the medicine commercials you’ve probably seen, I’ll just say ‘individual results may vary’ with this one. Virginia never really has relied on one specific player for a ‘go get us a basket’ role in every game of a season. Malcolm Brogdon came the closest to that in my mind. Instead, UVA generally relies on its system to get the type of shot it might need in a specific late-game scenario.
Brogdon – I’m thinking of his junior year at Louisville as an example – often ran in a spot that allowed him to cut down the middle of the lane and then choose a baseline screen option to get to either corner for a 3-point look. We’ve seen the elevator screen look for Joe Harris and Brogdon before, but we’ve also seen counters set up for London Perrantes like against California last season. Against Maryland a few years ago, the sideline play went straight into Mike Tobey to tie the game. Options, options, options.
For this season, I’d expect London Perrantes to be in the 3-point look category that Harris and Brogdon held previously. It might have to come from different concepts than the elevator screen, though. If it is a create a shot or create a free throw need, I’d pick Shayok for the reasons above. Plus, we saw a taste of that against Butler last season. Lastly, I think Austin Nichols and Kyle Guy are other possibilities based on situations.
Regardless, this is a fair question and one to monitor this season. Perrantes is the undisputed leader of the team, however, and I’d expect him to get the chance in a lot of these scenarios if they come up this season.