With the school year ending and the summer breeze flowing in the air, it only makes sense to once again look ahead to the college basketball season. Virginia is projected to be one of the most experienced teams in the country as it aims to return to the NCAA Tournament
Kicking off the discussion this past week, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello released his latest Way-Too-Early College Basketball Top 25 which placed UVA at No. 21 in the country. This made the University the third highest ranked ACC team in the country, behind No. 1 UNC and No. 9 Duke. Houston, Kentucky, UCLA, and Creighton round his top 5. The Cavaliers host Houston this season and could face UCLA in the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas.
For a team that returns 87.8% of its minutes played from last season, the most in the country, and boasts of the 11th highest ranked recruiting class, this figure feels like an underestimate for Virginia. However, when you reflect on last season, this ranking should come as no surprise. After posting a 21-14 overall record and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, there are a lot of question marks floating around the program.
In an attempt to answer some of these questions, and shake any looming doubts from last season, here’s an inventory of what the 2022-2023 UVA men’s basketball roster will look like.
As mentioned, Virginia will return 87.8% of its minutes played from last season. This includes all five starters (Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Kadin Shedrick, Armaan Franklin, and Jayden Gardner), and their top 6 scorers (with the addition of Francisco Caffaro, who started some games as well as Shedrick). Led by Third Team All-ACC forward Jayden Gardner, who averaged 15.3 points, 6.37 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, this is a group that will be able to use its experience playing together, and within Tony Bennett’s system, to its advantage.
Of the returners, though, the point of greatest contention is the return of Kihei Clark, who opted to use his extra year of NCAA eligibility as a result of the shortened COVID-19 season, to rejoin the team for a fifth year. As the last remaining member of the 2019 National Championship team, Clark has to be appreciated by fans for what he has done for Virginia. Last season, however, it felt as if Clark could never truly find a consistent rhythm and struggled off the ball at times. He has averaged 8.5 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game over his career, but many continue to express concerns over the backcourt pairing from the last two seasons.
That pairing, of course, is with Reece Beekman and some of the concerns are how Clark’s return affects his role. Despite a slow first season, Beekman now boasts a 44.9% field goal percentage, 33.8% 3-point percentage, and averages of 8.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game as a result of his immense second year jump. Throughout last season, he seemed to be the most comfortable Cavalier on the floor – often relied on as a spark for offense and a constant force of pressure on defense. With Clark’s return, it will be interesting to see Beekman’s development as he is primed for a monster junior season.
The front court for the Hoos will remain strong, led by the top scorer Gardner. They also have the physical presence of Francisco Caffaro, who has experience back to his redshirt season for the national title run. Much of Gardner’s success, though, will depend on the development of junior forward Kadin Shedrick. Standing at a long 6’11’’, it feels as if Shedrick is a player who still has a lot of potential for growth on the court. Averaging 6.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per
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