AskLandis.com Presents “Ask The Sabre” – One Need, Braxton Key, & Jack Salt

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The Virginia basketball team kept the winning momentum going at the start of 2019 with a pair of convincing wins against Florida State and Boston College. The Cavaliers are 14-0 and 2-0 in the ACC. That’s a good time for an “Ask The Sabre” segment presented by AskLandis.com.

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With two ACC games already in the win column and Clemson up next for Tony Bennett’s team, here are a few questions and answers about the Hoos with Sabre Editor Kris Wright, Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne, and AskLandis’ Brandon Lloyd.

Ask The Sabre

College hoops writer Mark Titus made the point on a podcast that casual fans can’t distinguish one UVA team from the next or the last, which adds to their dismissal of this edition as unable to win when it matters. He throws out there that what makes the ’19 team different is a healthy De’Andre Hunter. I think that Dre’s presence is maybe the third most important distinction from last year’s squad, though. What about you? ~ 3 U Circle (Read the rest of 3 U Circle’s post here.)

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I think it’s an interesting point and probably true. Casual fans watch the highlighted games on major networks and highlights where UVA gets glossed over or the focus dials in specifically on the Pack Line defense. The latter, of course, is the national identity of the program and a major reason the Hoos are so successful. So from that standpoint, yeah, casual fans think of Virginia as the same team year after year.

What I think makes this team different is the ability to get buckets in different ways, which seems much different than last year’s team and, in particular, last year’s team without Hunter’s offensive skills that really blossomed in January and February. The offense simply wasn’t nearly as dynamic as right now. Consider that UVA is getting to the free throw line more often (percentage of points from free throws is up almost 5%!), is shooting more 3-pointers and making them more often (up 1.5% so far), and that the scheme can isolate three to five guys for one on one chances in different ways (Hunter, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Ty Jerome, and Kihei Clark) and you’ll see an offense that’s much more dangerous than a year ago.

Brandon Lloyd: This team has shown all season the ability to score and more of a sense of urgency on the offensive end of the floor. In years past, players would be more hesitant to shoot if they missed early or defenses could key on one or two players to shut UVA’s offense down … that is not the case this season. We’ve seen multiple times this season Virginia put four guys in double figures scoring and having three players averaging in double figures for the season is a rarity for a Tony Bennett team. A couple of seasons ago, I think they only had one player average in double figures at the end of the season. Another distinction I see is their ability to get to the free throw line. Kyle Guy still doesn’t get calls when he drives to the basket but besides that, getting to the line is something UVA has done very well this season.

Ask The Sabre answers fan questions.
De’Andre Hunter drives the basketball. ~ Kris Wright

ESPN on what top teams could use. For Duke, it was perimeter shooting. Here is what they say for our Hoos: “Virginia: One more creative offensive player. What is your “one thing” UVA could use this season? ~ cavtastic (Read the rest of that thread here.)

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: A fire blanket defender in case of emergency. Can the Hoos cool off someone on an opposing team if or when they get going on a scoring surge? I think the Hoos already may have that player in De’Andre Hunter, but that theory really hasn’t been tested yet this season. It probably will be eventually. In order to win trophies, regular season or otherwise, teams usually need to win at least one game against a team that has a major scoring threat locked in on offense. And, to take it a step further, if Hunter is that guy like he was in the Virginia Tech home game last season, is the more versatile offensive firepower that’s been on display enough to take some pressure off of him on that end if he’s needed to snuff out a scorer?

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Kihei Clark to be a consistent scoring threat. Clark is a bulldog on defense, but offensively he has struggled to hit open shots. I’m sure the wrist injury is playing a role with that, but nevertheless he’ll need to consistently knock down the open shots he’s getting to be able to stay out on the floor and provide that defense the Hoos could really need against quicker backcourts.

Brandon Lloyd: My “one thing” UVA could use this season is another screen-and-roll guy. Jack Salt has played very well this season but you still don’t feel comfortable flipping him a pocket pass or a lob off of a pick. Mamadi Diakite does a pretty good job with this and we haven’t really seen Braxton Key or De’Andre Hunter in these situations very often. A guy like Isaiah Wilkins or Anthony Gill on previous teams were good examples of being able to execute those situations. We see Ty Jerome and Kihei Clark dribble into the paint more than they should have to during some situations where they don’t feel comfortable passing off of a pick.

What if Braxton Key plays like he did Saturday (against FSU)? ~ xxWahooWAxx (Read the rest of that thread here.)

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Key certainly caught everyone’s attention with a line of 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting with 6 rebounds and 1 steal while committing just one foul and no turnovers. Plus, he soaked up 26 minutes. Another scoring threat builds on my answer above in the sense that droughts become less likely if you have multiple players that can go get a basket or draw free throws. His offense certainly seems to be bubbling to the surface since the exam break with scoring totals of 5, 9, 7, 20, and 9 consecutively. With that said, the bigger deal with Key may be his ability to defend and there are ongoing signs of improvement there with things like angles, not giving up the baseline, and balancing the space/reaction time between being a Pack helper and recovering to the ball when it’s your responsibility. He’s taken charges in back-to-back games too. His ability to defend allows the Cavaliers a great deal of versatility on that end of the floor and that can be valuable in some of the matchups ahead.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: At this point, Key is the only consistent offensive contributor off the bench. UVA being able to count on him to be a consistent and potent scoring threat would be a big lift, no question. But he brings so many other things as well – rebounding, defense, ballhandling, etc. – and gives Coach Bennett versatility with his lineups. He kind of disappeared for a stretch there, so the Florida State performance should have been good for his confidence and hopefully will be a springboard for him the rest of the way.

Brandon Lloyd: That is the Braxton Key that UVA fans wanted to see when he transferred. His shot had some rust on it to start the season and he still isn’t a GREAT shooter, but he showed the ability to knock down shots against FSU. Key is at his best when he either can get in transition, or can get to the basket and use his physical frame and he did that very well against FSU. His ability to rebound the ball also gives Virginia a boost which has been noticed with him leading the team in rebounding. A productive 6th man is something that Coach Bennett needed desperately this season and it now proves why experts had Virginia ranked lower if he hadn’t been declared eligible. His eligibility was huge, huge news and I think that is now being proved. If Key can continue what he did against FSU and BC, that sets UVA up to be one of the last four teams standing in March.

Ask The Sabre answers fan questions.
A little Salt on the rim. ~ Kris Wright

Has anyone else noticed a new Jack Salt this year? ~ Williamsburg Wahoo (Read the rest of that thread here.)

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Yes. Salt always has been solid, but he looks more comfortable and fluid in his movements with the ball this year. The no-look feed to Mamadi Diakite for a dunk against Florida State looked so natural. The way he flowed into a jump hook at Boston College looked rhythmic not forced. He’s patient when he needs to reverse the ball back into a ball screen for the guards. He’s really settled into his role as a senior.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Salt is bringing his usual toughness and outstanding screening. From a leadership perspective, I like the toughness and touch of swagger he is bringing as the team’s only senior. His defense is solid. His offense has made the biggest jump. We are seeing a more aggressive, more decisive Jack Salt. While Virginia will never count on him to provide double-digit points, his contributions are needed and I hope he keeps up his decisiveness on the offensive end.

Brandon Lloyd: I think Jack Salt has always been who he is and doesn’t try to be more. He has definitely developed a sweet little jump hook in the paint which has been needed sometimes this season. His defense is as good as it has been before and his size alone forces officials to call ticky tack fouls on him still when he is clearly just playing good, physical defense. He still isn’t as good of a rebounder as he should be for his size but that also has to do with Virginia’s defense and how far he has to hedge out and such at times.

So for the recruiting class of 2020 … Walker Kessler, Reece Beekman, Keon Johnson, Henry Coleman III, Johnny Juzang, Terrence Williams – How many of these guys do we get? (The dream would be all and have one of the guards reclassify to the class of 2019 for guard depth, leaving a scholarship for Carson McCorkle to reclassify to the class of 2020.) Which one is the most important one in terms of needs for this team or recruiting pipelines? ~ Hooandtrue (Read the rest of that thread here and catch the latest EDGE update on Kessler here.)

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Virginia is a legitimate contender with every one of the prospects you mentioned with the possible exception of super-athletic wing Keon Johnson, who I think has been leaning to Tennessee ever since his official visit to Knoxville last fall. It may sound strange not to include UVA as a legitimate contender with Johnson considering the Hoos are in his final five; however, I just think Tennessee is in a very strong position right now. With that in mind, I don’t see UVA landing all six players you listed.

Coach Bennett has put a lot of work into point guard Reece Beekman, who would be a tremendous get in terms of talent but also in terms of need, as Kihei Clark is currently the only projected true lead guard on the 2020-21 season roster. I like Virginia’s standing right now with Beekman. I would put Beekman with Coleman and Williams as UVA’s best bets in this group right now. Juzang and Kessler both seem genuinely interested in Virginia, but both will be a battle to land in the end.

Playing it conservatively, I’d be surprised if the Cavaliers don’t land at least two from this group right now. Having McCorkle as a possible reclass option – for those who don’t know, he is currently a 2021 prospect but he could reclass back into 2020 – is highly beneficial should the Hoos miss out on some of its other backcourt targets. Another thing to consider is other prospects that may pop on UVA’s wish list. The class of 2020 is obviously a big one, so if some of these players wait too long, Virginia may move on to others that rise up the target board.

Virginia has needs everywhere in the class of 2020. The backcourt in general is my biggest need. While Clark has shown some good things and Casey Morsell is an excellent looking fit as a combo guard, I’m not sold yet on Marco Anthony or Kody Stattmann being able to gobble up huge minutes. De’Andre Hunter will be gone even though he technically is projected to be around in 2020, and without him the Hoos currently project to have Clark, Morsell, Anthony and Stattmann at the 1-3 positions. Combo forward is a need as well.

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