Women’s soccer is just around the corner!  Football is about to embark on its most significant season in recent memory, but some of us still can’t get enough hoops!  As usual, I’m joined by Seattle Hoo, St Lou Hoo, MaizeandBlue Wahoo, HooAmp and Robert to talk all things men’s basketball.  Let’s get to it….


1.  Our 2020 class is Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman and Jabri Abdur Rahim.  Who is the most important recruit for this class?

St Lou: I’m going with Beekman, because point guards drive the game, and the best teams we’ve seen from both UVA and the rest of college basketball have often had two point guards (or at a minimum shooting guards with A-level handles) sharing the floor together. Giving Clark a second ball-handler to pair with will unlock a lot of potential for the two years they’re at JPJ together, letting them alternate responsibilities like we saw Ty and Clark do last year, and forcing defenses to honor multiple potential points of attack.

Hoo Amp: Ty Jerome was my MVP of this past season, so I’m inclined to say Beekman since he is also a point guard and has the opportunity to stir the entire drink the way Jerome did, but I’m going to go with Jabri Abdur Rahim. He’s got the NBA name recognition, is the highest-rated recruit for UVa since Kyle Guy, and has the potential to fill the role that De’Andre Hunter held down this past season that turned him into a lottery pick.

Maize:  McCorkle, because he’s the least heralded.  St Lou and Hoo Amp are almost certainly correct about Beekman and JAR.  Top-50 recruits don’t go bust with Tony Bennett coaching them.  McCorkle is a little less of a sure thing.  He’s the Kyle Guy to Beekman’s Ty Jerome and JAR’s DeAndre Hunter, but Guy was a bigger name on the recruiting circles.  If McCorkle can match the other two, UVA has another big three on its hands.

Seattle:  The answer I want to give is the easy answer and a complete copout, but I do think it is the right answer:  None of them; all of them; the class as a whole.  But since Val wants a single choice here,  I will say that despite a good argument for each of them, I’ll give the nod to Reece Beekman.  For ten years, Tony has been trying to convince a true ball-dominant premier point guard to come to UVA, and he has completely struck out, culminating in the humiliation that was the Jahvon Quinerly recruitment. Beekman brings that streak to an end – and he just might be the best of all of them. Like Quinerly, Beekman was Tony’s first love from the beginning, and like with Quinerly, Tony focused on Beekman.  This time, the lure of bags of cash meant nothing and the young man chose fundamentals. Beekman will compete with Kihei Clark.

Carson McCorkle was the first to commit, the one who got the ball rolling on this class.  He’s also the kind of shooter who gives opposing coaches nightmares and opens space for the others to exploit.  He’ll play that Joe Harris/Kyle Guy role and might end up being the best of them at it. 

Jabri Abdur-Rahim could be the most important because we desperately needed to add that athletic, primary scoring option wing to this class.  He also marks out new recruiting territory, and bringing his father [former All Pro and current NBA G Leauge Commissioner Shareef Abdur Rahim] into the Virginia Basketball family is enormously fortuitous in the grand strategic sense. 

Taken together, the 2020 class builds on the success of 2016 and has the potential to move Virginia Basketball forward into blue blood territory.

St Lou:  Still sounds like a cop-out answer, Seattle.  You’re up, Robert, pick one for us…

Robert:  OK, I’ll go with Jabri Abdur-Rahim, although this was a tough call between him and Reece Beekman. While both are highly talented, I just think JAR can be an excellent defender from day one and will enable more flexibility on offense. The first point is hopefully self-explanatory, and there’s no reason to think JAR can’t be the next great Virginia defender with his combination of athleticism, dedication, and 6-foot-10 wingspan. Offensively, I think an elite wing is the most dangerous offensive weapon in college basketball, and he seems poised to be just that. He appears to have a more complete offensive game (especially in terms of shooting) than a high school De’Andre Hunter, which is his most popular Virginia player comparison by both fans and coaches. I don’t expect JAR to stick around all four years in Charlottesville; the NBA will be calling his name soon.

Val:  McCorkle.  I know Morsell committed a month or so after the UMBC debacle, and we had been hearing for months that he was a “silent” commit, whatever that means, but I was too gunshy from too many repeated whiffs since the 2016 class.  Missing out on Quinerly and having to take afterthoughts like Marco Anthony and Frankie Badocci and a pair of unknowns from Argentina and Australia.  And then there was some 5 foot nothing kid….

McCorkle was the sort of guy that Bennett thrived on recruiting: the young kid who hasn’t blown up and who Tony got to first.  Carson wanted to be here and he was the first out of the gate. I think McCorkle’s decision gave the entire team a lift, just as the season was about to begin.

2.  Hopefully everyone got a chance to read rushdacote’s “travelogue” of the U20 FIBA world championships where both Caffaro and Stattmann featured this summer.  What takaway of his most sticks with you?

Hoo Amp:  Stattmann’s inability to shoot the 3-pointer, which is odd because we’ve heard how he can really shoot it, from coaches to players. Hopefully he finds his shot, because UVa would definitely be able to use scoring in any fashion with the Big Three having moved on to the NBA. Otherwise, Stattmann might not see the court.

Val:  Caffaro going 12 of 32 from the free throw line.  Woof.

Reading St Lou’s review of Caffaro from last year, he seemed to be good from the line, and his form looked fine.  If you hope your 7’1″ throwback big guy is going to feast in the lane and collapse the defense, he’s got to be able to convert.  38% is shocking.  And 32 FTs seems like a large enough sample for me to worry about it.

Maize:  Unfortunately, it’s the play of Kody Stattmann that sticks out, and not in a good way.  These world championships really are a step down from ACC competition.  Team Latvia would probably get steamrolled in the Atlantic 10.  In order to provide value to UVA, Stattmann needs to provide a little instant heat off the bench and play passable defense.  In Crete, he was clearly a volume scorer.  He won’t have the chance to do that in college ball, so he needs to be efficient.

A close second for me, and one that is actually a positive, is the emotion that Caffaro played with.  Dude hasn’t played in a game that counts in a long time, so there’s probably a little pent-up fire there.  If and when he channels that positively, he can be a dangerous guy down low. Mike Scott learned to do it very, very effectively.

Seattle:  The results on the court were unfortunately not that surprising in tempering expectations for these two players.  I agree with Val, Francisco Caffaro’s free throw shooting was disappointing and raises doubt as to his ultimate role.  Defense is not his calling card, and a 38% free throw shooting post man is a limited offensive threat.

Nearly as distressing was Kody Stattmann’s three-point shooting, which failed to reach Caffaro’s free throw percentage.  Kody still has yet to show he can hit threes outside of practice beyond the high school level, and without a reliable three-point shot, he’s not going to play. Nothing else in his game is strong enough to get him on the floor.

Taken together, the results from Crete depress expectations for the ultimate roles of these two players at UVA, given the returning and incoming talent.

Robert:  Both Caffaro and Stattmann are still projects, likely needing another year or two before the potential of meaningful contributions could become a reality at Virginia. I think this was generally expected for both, although we’re starting to get a better feel for their games and learning curves still ahead. I was high on Caffaro when he committed and hopeful he might be able to contribute in 2019-20 after last season’s redshirt year. However, it appears he still has a bit of a ways to go before being ACC ready, although I still to like his potential. With Stattmann, I admittedly had more questions with how he would adjust to the college level — I’m still not sure whether his jump shot will translate (he just doesn’t get much elevation) and he needs to add size to be a more effective finishing in the lane. He struggled against the weaker competition this summer, which doesn’t give you a ton of hope for his prospects against ACC teams this season.

St Lou:  That initial reports that these guys were two-year-projects were right. A summer or two ago, we touched base with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, their NBA Draft scout who watched these guys at international camps like Basketball Without Borders, and he was adamant that they would need a full two years before we could count on them. Jack Salt was no different. Adjusting to the speed of the US game is just a massive task for international players, the level of competition they face elsewhere in the world is just not adequate preparation, not like top-level AAU or prep-factory HS ball is. So the takeaway from the FIBA U19 World Cup is that the optimism that maybe they’d break out this year was unfounded.

We may see these two play this year out of sheer necessity at times, but it’s not often going to be pretty. Diakite’s return, along with continued progression from Huff, does buy Caffaro some time, where he can play a controlled 5-10 mpg depending on the opponent this year before stepping into a more major role next season. But Kody’s facing a thinner depth chart, with only newcomers at his position (Woldetensae, Morsell, McKoy), and Tony’s preference to leave Braxton at the 4 as much as possible, so Kody’s opportunity is much larger. Have to hope that some trial-by-fire in the early portion accelerates the development.

3. Which newcomer this year — Woldetensae, McKoy, or Morsell — is going to have the biggest impact for the team?

Seattle:  Casey Morsell.  Casey is a stud who is just better than everybody thinks he is.  He’s as physically ready for the ACC as was Justin Anderson as a freshman, and he has a complete game.  He’s also a total winner.  I like Woldetensae and McKoy has an ACC physique already and a lot of pluses, but Casey is going to be the lodestar for this class.  The difference between Casey and the Guy/Jerome class is the lack of a Cerberus in his way. Tony had Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson to lean on, experienced guys with arguable ACC ability. He does not have that this season, so he will have no alternative but to lean on the new guys. That gives Morsell an opportunity Jerome did not have.  He’s going to have people thinking of Malcolm Brogdon by February.

Maize:  Morsell, now and in the future.  He may or may not break out immediately in the first game of the year, but sooner or later he will.  He’s a future 30-minute guy and he might be that by January.  McKoy strikes me as a player with a high ceiling who will take a little longer to harness all his skills, and Woldetensae, while experienced, is more likely to be an 18-minute kind of player.  If he had immediate-impact skills, he would’ve taken a more traditional route to UVA.

Plus, he basically has to, because who else is going to score perimeter points in a perimeter-oriented league? Kihei Clark forever, but he’s not averaging 15.

Hoo Amp:  Woldetensae is intriguing, given his ability to shoot and handle the ball, and he will be needed, but to me, he’s still more of a mystery than Morsell, who I am so ready to see take the court. His two-way highlights have me salivating. I think he will be a star in the making and can have an immediate impact in the mold of Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Kyle Guy, and London Perrantes.

St Lou:  I’ll counter the Morsell love by picking Woldetensae, for better or worse, because we need an experienced guard willing and able to take and make shots. He’s got the size, he’s got the shooting stroke. But how will his game translate to the ACC? How capably will he allow the freshman to ease into college ball? Kihei is still a pass-first PG and while both Casey and Justin have tremendous upside, there’s still a learning curve. Woldetensae is the key to holding down the fort as UVA’s alpha scorer in the backcourt.

Robert:  This year? Woldetensae. The next couple of years? Morsell. Woldetensae was brought in to fill an immediate need at guard for this season, and I’m not sure I see a scenario where he isn’t starting. He stands tall at 6-foot-5 and is an excellent shooter at 47% from three and 89% from the charity stripe. The biggest questions will be how well he picks up the defense and his ball handling ability, although his coaches pushed him to play more point guard at Indian Hills Community College last season, which should help on the latter. Depending on how quickly he adjusts to the increased level of competition, he is a breakout candidate in the ACC. Regarding Morsell, I think we as fans need to be patient this season. He’ll have his moments, just as Kyle Guy did as a freshman. But neither Guy nor Jerome were true impact players as freshmen, and De’Andre Hunter redshirted. Morsell will be a centerpiece of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 teams, but might take some time to adjust to the college game this season.

Val:  Woldetensae.  We have only three guards on the roster and Bennett fell in love with three-guard lineups last year.    I have no idea who had the best prep for the ACC between Woldetensae and Morsell — playing for a JUCO power vs playing in one of the best prep leagues in the country — but leaving home and moving somewhere new is one of life’s great stressors.  Even for 18-year-old kids who are dying to get away, and have a cushy scholarship with the reigning national champs.  I have to think Woldetensae is a couple of steps ahead of Morsell in this regard.

4) What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the 2019-20 team?

Robert:  Re-establishing roles and expectations, particularly in offensive sets. Guy, Jerome, and Hunter were the foundation of each of the past two Virginia teams, and their chemistry played a large part in the championship run. Each player knew the others’ strengths and weaknesses and played to those. For example, Hunter probably wasn’t spotting up from the corner for the game tying three against Texas Tech if he didn’t know Jerome would look for and make that pass. How would a similar situation play out this season? Likewise, we all knew Kyle Guy was getting the ball for the final inbounds against Auburn, but who will it go to this season? This coming year in Virginia basketball will be a transition, with realistic Final Four hopes likely not returning until the season after. With a new cast of players, how this year’s team establishes chemistry and what roles players will assume will be very intriguing.

St Lou:  Play on the wings has to be the biggest hurdle right now. Diakite, Huff, and Key (with Badocchi, Caffaro, and Shedrick in reserve) make a 4/5 rotation most teams would love to have. Clark at the 1 may not be flashy but we Hoos know he’s a gem and good for 30-some steady minutes a night. But we’re staring at a blank slate at the 2/3 in a way we haven’t since the earliest days of Bennett’s tenure. We have almost no relevant D-1 experience from the likes of Morsell, Stattmann, Woldetensae, and McKoy, and yet we’re going to ask them to do some very real heavy lifting scoring the ball and defending future NBA’ers night after night. Defenses are going to make sure our proven posts don’t get good looks and instead dare our guards to beat them. I like the group we’ve got, but I’m also realistic that it’s going to be challenging at times to see them click for long periods of time.

Hoo Amp:  Not resting on the championship. It’s so easy to ease up after winning a title. For years, decades, the Virginia program floundered, got close, and was denied time and time again, from the Ralph Sampson days of the 1980s to the 2010s disappointments against Michigan State, Syracuse, and UMBC. There were ups and many downs, but ultimate glory was never achieved — until, all of a sudden, it was. It’s still surreal to think about. Will the same fire be there that was present after the ultimate humiliation the year before? Winning another one is going to be tougher than winning the first; that’s why only a handful of programs have multiple titles. Plus, the target on UVa’s back is going to be bigger than ever for opponents. For a few seasons, the Wahoos were one of, if not the best, regular-season teams in the country, but they were denied a seat at the big table by most in the media for their lack of March success. That’s no longer the case. Teams know they are the best and will come after them hard.

However, both of these challenges can be overcome. For the first, Tony Bennett is way more competitive than he’s normally given credit for, and I think the fire to be one of the game’s best coaches burns bright, and he can begin to cement his legacy with multiple crowns. And there was a lot of turnover on the team, so a new crop of players will have the chance to prove themselves and begin winning big anew. Even someone like Mamadi Diakite, who was a big part of the title run, should be motivated, because he has his eye on getting drafted.

And the target? Well, it’ll make UVa that much more focused, eventually. At first, it could be tough. But then, the Cavaliers will begin to relish taking opponents’ best shots. And I bet the same media that didn’t think UVa could win a championship will have a new battle cry — that the ‘Hoos were lucky to win each of their past last three games in the tournament. It’ll all combine to refocus Bennett’s program to buckle up and get ready to do it again.

The future is very bright for UVa. That 2020 class is stacked. Virginia has hit the big time. I’m sure there will be a step back this season, but I bet not as big as people think, and in 2-3 years, what happens could be amazing.  

Maize:  The lack of perimeter depth, combined with the bullseye they’ll be wearing.  Even with a streak of tournament 1 seeds, I don’t think UVA ever got every opponent’s 100% effort, every single night.  There would be times where they’d start to steamroll someone and that team would just say screw it.  Or the opponent would look past UVA because Duke was coming up or they WERE Duke or something.  But everyone wants a piece of the national champs.  And that’s really going to exacerbate the perimeter depth because if someone has an off night in a screaming-loud road gym, there’s nobody to turn to.  Morsell is gonna go 3-for-21 sometime in a 16-point loss, and we’ll find out how good he is at bouncing back from bad days.

Seattle:  The team lost so much scoring, and so much perimeter productivity, that it will be a challenge to find enough scoring and enough minutes from the perimeter depth.  It is not easy to consistently thrive in modern basketball with two big men on the floor, but that is where the strength of Virginia’s roster is.  Still, it can be done as long as trade-offs are accepted and the team maximizes the advantages of its two big men.

 The biggest challenge will be dealing with the lack of depth in the backcourt. The team returns seven players from last season’s roster.  Only four of those players played meaningful minutes.  Of those four, two are post players and a third is a combo forward whose lack of a jump shot makes his best offensive contributions come from a power forward role.  Kihei Clark is the only returning guard.  Of the three players who did not play meaningful minutes last season, one is a true post, one is an Isaiah Wilkins-type forward, and the other is a wing forward.  None of the three is definitely ready to be an ACC rotation player.  This means Tony Bennett has a grand total of three guards on his roster, and no established wing forward.  Putting together a coherent rotation is going to be one of the biggest challenges of his career.

Val:  Unleashing Jay Huff.

While Huff got a lot of burn last season, Bennett never seemed to get him enough playing time to fully satisfy Cavalier Nation.  Huff’s stunning talent is still more potential than realization, but we lost 44 points per game to the NBA, and how well Huff is positioned to cut into that deficit will go a long way to determining how involved we are in the ACC title race and March Madness.

5) Do you expect to see similar tactics to 2018-19, or to the seasons before, or some other adjustment the staff will make based on the different personnel mix?

Val:  This season is going to be wildly different from last year because we employed a three-guard set for most of the game.  This year we only have three guards on the team.  If Clark, Morsell or Woldetensae are going to get even a minute of rest, it means that either Key or McKoy will be playing the three, leaving two spots for some combination of Huff, Diakite and Caffaro.

One of the strengths of this team will be its size in the front court and heretofore, it’s been an avenue that Bennett has long underemphasized.  Bennett’s going to have to get production from these three, but if we can, we could develop a true inside-out game that will allow the 2020 class to spearhead the run to another NCAA championship.

In some respects, I’m looking forward to this season more than I did last year.  

Hoo Amp:  The lack of guard depth and seemingly more options in the post could certainly change some things, but it’ll still boil down to two things for me: tough, hard-nosed, disciplined Pack-Line defense and looking for good, efficient shots in a patient offense. The details, well, I’ll let the coaches figure that out.  You guys can explain the  X’s and O’s better than I.

Maize:  The packline ain’t going anywhere, but the coaches brought out a lot of varied looks on offense last year – as Seattle said they were able to get out of their comfort zone – because they had veteran guys who could handle it.  And who needed a little flavor to bring out their best.  Because every year is a new chemistry experiment, they’ll start off with a greatly simplified offense, and I’ll be surprised if by the end of the year all the options from last year are added back in.  This year will be about re-introducing the Tony way to the newcomers, so we’ll be seeing more ABCs and less differential calculus.

Robert:  For the first time in recent memory, the strength of this Virginia team will likely be its front court, and I really don’t know what it means within the confines of Tony Bennett’s offense. The packline will be the packline, and although there are some adjustments (like switching screens and personnel) that we see here and there, the true test will be on offense. My expectation is we’ll see a continued emphasis on spacing, as it plays to the strengths of the bigs. Both Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff are strong in the pick and roll game, and I’m hoping we’ll see Diakite stretch his shooting range out, too, as that was an emphasis of his NBA workouts. The Braxton Key we saw last season is also better fit as a small-ball four than a three. So in conclusion, I’m expecting a similar combination of mover-blocker and high ball screen action to what we saw last season. The real difference is that the offense might funnel through the front court instead of the backcourt, but I’m just not yet sure what that will look like. It might take half of the season to play that out.

St Lou:  I wonder if the staff is going to go with a bigger lineup than we’ve gotten used to seeing. Starting around January 2018, when Hunter broke out as a small-ball 4, Bennett has thrived playing a four-out lineup. Key and Hunter gave Bennett the ability last year to run only one true post out at a time (basically rotating Salt, Diakite, and Huff exclusively through the 5-spot). Hell, he even put Key at the 5 for long stretches in the title game, which was exhilarating to watch. But given the depth concerns at the 2/3, whether it’s bodies or experience or what, does Tony try to tap into his deeper post rotation to play guys like Diakite and Huff together? Does Key move to the 3?

The critical piece to this equation is having a 4/5 pairing which does two things: 1) is provide a floor spacer on offense, 2) is have a capable perimeter defender. These two capabilities could come from different players, such as Huff’s 3-point shooting paired with Badocchi’s athleticism on defense. But in today’s wide-open game, the beauty of the small-4 is that it opens up the offensive floor spacing while allowing you to defend smaller opponents as well, the Jordan Nwora’s of the world… if you can do so without giving up rebounding or even rim protection, all the better. Ideally a Key or Hunter who can do it all are the preferred solution, but otherwise it requires creativity in lineups. It will challenge Bennett if he feels he needs McKoy and Key to play the 3-spot to paper over depth issues in the back court.

Seattle:  One has to assume that Tony Bennett and his staff are going to sit down in early September when they come back from their vacations, look at their roster and their notes from summer workouts and feedback from the players’ summer games, and devise a strategy for the season.  The main question in my mind is what they will decide is the best way to utilize the talent they have.

The definite rotation players are Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Braxton Key, Tomas Woldetense, Casey Morsell and Kihei Clark.  I cannot envision any circumstances other than injury in which those six players will not be the core of the rotation.  You will notice like I have that all three guards are in that top six, which means that if Tony relies upon a three-guard offense like he likes to, there is no guard to come off the bench and spell one of the main players.  If he goes with the three frontcourt players he has a guard to come off the bench, and he has frontcourt depth prospects in Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Caffaro, Francesco Badocchi and Justin McKoy.

From the above, he almost has to go back to an old-fashioned dual post lineup with Key starting at the three.  That will present challenges with guarding four-guard lineups, and Huff’s lack of bulk will challenge when defending bulky posts.  The need to rely on inexperienced players adds the challenge of establishing defensive cohesion.  The individual ability is there to have a dominant defense with Diakite’s and Huff’s rim protection, Key’s overall ability, Clark’s on-ball harassment, and Morsell’s raw defensive talent, but putting it all together will be an enormous challenge that presumably will devour the available practice time.

So what of the offense?  With so much inexperience and so much practice time presumably devoted to the defense, one can assume the desire will be to simplify.  But what does that mean tactically?  My initial impulse is to fear a return to the BM offense of 2014-2018, since that is the historic basic offense.  But while that might be simpler for the coaches, is it simpler to the players? Classic BM does not seem to suit the players’ abilities, as the blockers are not low-post monsters and the movers are young and inexperienced.  That looks like a recipe for offensive disaster like not seen around here since February-March 2017.

Your bigs were excellent in the pick-and-roll, and one of them is a dangerous popper.  One was highly productive from the top of the key and the other works the baseline.  Your point guard runs the pick-and-roll with aplomb.  Your incoming guards both can spot up and hit the three.  It all adds up to a rotation that should thrive in the CBS motion offense.  Rather than the blending of CBS and BM into one continuous offense, “simplifying” could mean strict CBS.

Tony got out of his tactical comfort zone last season and was rewarded.  It will be interesting to see what he does this season.