Twitter Mailbag – Preseason Hoops Edition

Maybe my favorite part of writing the preseason coverage each year is the chance to interact with other fans in the Twitter Mailbag. Appreciated all the write-ins this time around, and Karl Hess and StLouHoo got together to answer each of your questions.


Karl Hess: 1. Only down 2 with 20 seconds to go opens up a ton of options. Essentially every play in the playbook is available. And I honestly like a lob to Mamadi.

Remember the lob Key threw to Mamadi from the top of the key against Oklahoma in the second round?

See 2:35 mark on this link:

That play or some variation is what I want.



StLouHoo: I think the “end of the shot clock” offense for this team will find its strength in its diversity. Much like the 2013-14 squad where you had a number of guys you could feed in the closing seconds, this year defenses are going to have to honor Kihei’s drive-and-dish or pick-and-roll game, Stattmann and Woldetensae’s spot-up shooting, Casey Morsell’s downhill athleticism, Jay and Mamadi’s multi-level scoring knacks, and Key’s garbage-man instincts. Rather than run offense for a specific UVA player, instead we’ll be able to size up a defensive weakness and pick the right player to exploit it. That becomes even more lethal with a smart, accurate distributor like Kihei who will find that weakness when surveying the court and ensure the ball is delivered to that ideal spot. So, I guess then, the answer is Kihei gets the ball, but rather than shoot or iso, he’s going to take a ball screen and then find the soft spot of the defense and get the assist.


Karl Hess: Despite my answer to the first question, I don’t think we’re going to see lob city as entertaining as that would be.

I think it’s a given that we’ll see less reliance on three point shooting. Per Sports Reference, the Hoos attempted 2,056 field goals last season in 38 games. Three point attempts accounted for 39.5% of field goal attempts (813 attempts). It’s difficult to peg how many less three point shots the Hoos will take as a percentage of total shots. But given the personnel losses and the increase in the distance of the three point line to the international line, there will be some drop-off.

The good news is that both Sides and the CBS offense don’t have to be heavy three point shooting offenses. When the Hoos had Anthony Gill, they routinely ran the offense through him and got a ton, relatively speaking, of shots near the basket. 

We saw the CBS offense generate a bunch of easy looks at the basket last season through screening, spacing, and ball movement. So we already know it can be effective. Getting Kirk Penney in the building instead of trying to commute from New Zealand or offering thoughts over the phone will almost certainly add some new wrinkles to the CBS offense as well.

Given the personnel and their relative strengths on offense, I’ll be really interested to see if our free throw rate increases appreciably. 

StLouHoo: The offense is certainly going to run through the front court this year, which is going to be a very throwback approach in this modern era of small lineups and ball-dominant guards. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 2017 national championship game featured two teams that played very big (Gonzaga with Karnowski, Jonathan Williams, and Zach Collins; UNC with Meeks, Hicks, and Tony Bradley), which tells me the right coaches can not just win with big lineups, but truly use it to dominate smaller teams inside. Huff, Diakite, and Key are some of the best big men in the ACC, all upperclassmen, all with excellent two-way chops. Caffaro, once healthy and in a groove, has shown the ability to own the paint as well. Tony will have his guards well coached to be looking to the paint to run an inside-out offense, and with Kirk Penney continuing to leave his mark modernizing the offense, we’ll see the ball get to our big men a number of ways. Pick and rolls, backside lobs, pick and pops, high-lows (especially against zones), and traditional post entry-passes (when in Sides) will all be utilized, as Tony understands the best way for the offense to free up its inexperienced guards is to have opposing defenses more focused on protecting the paint.


Karl Hess: Last season Kihei averaged 4.5 points per game in 26.8 minutes per game with a 12.1% usage rate per Sports Reference. Given the departures, the minutes per game will go up. The usage rate will go up even if not a ton. And I don’t think we want the usage rate to go up a ton as I think Kihei will be more effective picking his spots. 

Based on that, I’m looking for about 7 to 8 points a game, max.

StLouHoo: Once he got healthy last year, Kihei was a 38% 3-point shooter over the last ~16 games of the ACC schedule plus the postseason. He was 41% in the NCAA Tournament. Those are perfectly acceptable percentages and bode well going forward. Working against him, however, are a deeper 3-point line and additional defensive attention, so he’s going to have to be very smart about picking his spots to shoot. As such, I think he still caps his shot count at maybe 6 or 7 attempts a game (he averaged 5 attempts a game in the NCAAT) and stays a pass-first point guard. And that’s okay because, even without a safe-bet ball-dominant scorer on the roster right now, there is offensive potential with a lot of the roster, from shooters like Kody and Tomas, to slashers like Casey and McKoy, to skilled big men like Key, Diakite, and Huff. Kihei doesn’t need to become a shoot-first PG this year. So I think his PPG is around 7 this year with his assists bumping up around 5 a game.




Karl Hess:  I think there will certainly be opportunities for Kihei, Casey, and Tomas to share the court together. I think that’s mostly dependent on Tomas expediting his transition to ACC basketball and growing his confidence and instincts in the Hoos’ systems as a result. The longer is takes him to get continuous, the less time we’ll see them on the court together.

When Kihei is out, the most likely suspects to bring the ball up are certainly Casey and Tomas. But don’t sleep on Braxton Key as another part time option. He was fairly successful handling the ball last season when used as an outlet against pressure. He always looked confident in his handle. I was surprisingly comfortable with the ball in his hands during those situations.

StLouHoo: An “all-defense backcourt” probably consists of Clark, Morsell, and Key at the 1-2-3. Depending how long Caffaro is out, I doubt we’ll see that much because Key is going to be needed to play down as a 4 for long stretches. That means one of Woldetensae or Stattmann is getting big minutes at the 3 (more on the exact rack-and-stack of those two below) but either way, UVA probably has somewhat of a relative weak link at the 3-spot with those two, as each still has some defensive growth yet to do. When Clark gets his breather, the backcourt will very likely be Morsell-Woldetensae-Stattmann at the 1-2-3 which is three guys who’ve never played competitive D-1 minutes before, and if that makes you kinda nervous, you won’t be alone.


Q: Twitter user Justin Bentley (@bustin_jentley) writes: It seems obvious we need at least one and probably two guards in addition to Kihei to step up in a major way. Stattmann is seemingly positioned surprisingly well, with Woldetensae perhaps less so. Out of those two and Morsell, how do you rank them as most likely to earn substantial playing time and make the biggest impact this year?

Karl Hess: I’m a huge Casey Morsell fan. So he’s at the top of the pecking order for me. Despite the early positive vibes surrounding Stattmann and the lack of hype for Woldo (Tomas Woldetensae), I still expect Woldo to surpass Kody eventually. Woldo is going to need some time to adjust from JUCO ball and the expectations for what’s required in our systems. Right now, I’m expecting his light to come on around the start of January (when the schedule really starts to get serious). So for me, it’s…

1. Casey Morsell

2. Tomas Woldetensae

3. Kody Stattmann

StLouHoo: Casey Morsell is going to get the most significant playing time of the three because, if nothing else, he’s got next-level defensive potential and we know how much Bennett values that. Casey and Kihei starting at the 1-2 is perhaps the most lethal defensive guard duo in the ACC based on raw potential. If Casey’s even just average on offense, he’s in line for well over 30 minutes a night based on his defense along. So the question is Woldetensae vs Stattmann, two international players known for their offensive touch with big defensive questions. Smoke right now is that Kody’s got the inside track; though younger, he’s got more time in the systems and was healthy all offseason (Woldetensae spent April-June rehabbing a broken shooting hand). Like Karl, I do expect Tomas to catch up to Kody eventually, but it may not be until the meat of the ACC season, and on balance Kody may ultimately have the bigger role on the year. So 1. Morsell, 2a. Stattmann, and 2b. Woldetensae.


Q: Twitter user Austin (@keck_6) writes: I was wondering what the projected starting 5 is going to be. Who will be the go to people off the bench. Realistic expectations for the year, as well as recruiting trail for some names to watch out for that UVA has a great chance to get. Thank you for all that you guys put into the grind of keeping up with info and getting quality content out for us to read. It is greatly appreciated.

Karl Hess: Here are a few quick hitting answers….

– Projected Starters against Syracuse: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff. I feel pretty good about the first four. Maybe we go with Kody Stattmann instead of Jay Huff to have an experienced big available on the bench.

– Once you get into March, the tournament is a total crap shoot. It’s all about matchups, luck, and who is hot at the moment. Last season we played 12 seed Oregon in the Sweet 16 but that Ducks squad had won ten in a row including the PAC-12 tourney and a win over Wisconsin in the first round. With all that being said, making the tournament is realistic. A Sweet 16 appearance is probably maxing things out. So my expectations fall somewhere in there.

– With the open 2020 scholarship, if it’s used in this class, I don’t think we’ve offered the recipient yet unless it’s someone that flips from a team that loses its coach in the spring. In the 2021 class, the top names to know currently are bigs Efton Reid (Richmond, VA) and Caleb Furst (Fort Wayne, IN), wing Trevor Keels (Fairfax, VA), and guards Carter Whitt (Raleigh, NC) and Isa Silva (Carmichael, CA).

StLouHoo: Projected starters, I’m going to surprise folks with Kihei-Casey-Kody-Mamadi-Huff. No Braxton, you say? With Caffaro likely out this game recovering from a minor leg injury, and Shedrick maybe not ready for prime time, we’re going to need Key to play major minutes at the 4. Rotating Huff, Diakite, and Key at the 4 and 5 for 80 combined minutes doesn’t leave Braxton the minutes to start at the 3, so instead I think we see Kihei-Casey-Kody at the 1-2-3 doing their best London-Malcolm-Joe impression with Tomas the utility knife backcourt backup, McKoy available for limited stretches.

Re: the bench, if Shedrick does indeed redshirt, this question almost answers itself due to the limited depth. Papi will be the go-to big, McKoy the go-to forward, and Kody and Tomas the go-to guards (I think an available Caffaro moves Braxton back to the starting 3). There’s minutes for all of them. I’m not sure any of them rise to the level of true starter-equivalent 6th man, instead the love being spread around.

My realistic expectation for the year continues to improve if we stay healthy, as I’m not in love with the rest of the ACC this year. Certainly there are some teams we can and at some point will lose to. But while the league has its usual share of “good” teams, not many really jump off the page as “great,” it’s reminiscent of that 2013-14 year when the ACC had only one Sweet 16 team. That means a wide-open ACC that Bennett can capitalize upon. Top 4 in the league and maybe a Sweet 16 run aren’t unrealistic if the Hoos can stay healthy.


Q: And lastly, Facebook user Frank Pritchett asks: Hoo is our backup point guard? Will we incorporate any zone defense this year?

Karl Hess: I think Casey Morsell is the odds on favorite to be the backup PG at the moment. But I’m not expecting Kihei to get much non foul trouble induced rest.

And zone defense? Nope!

StLouHoo: Casey Morsell is the backup point guard at the moment, though he’s not the world’s most natural fit for the position, not yet anyways. I’m hopeful that once he adjusts to the speed of the ACC, Woldetensae can put some time in at the 1 as well, as he played some point at Indian Hills, with a 3.1:1.4 A:TO ratio as a true freshman. He’s got some Devon Hall to his game in that while he’s not necessarily a full time lead guard, you’re not scared to let him have his turn in relief. If Kihei were to miss any real time, there’s a non-zero chance freshman walk-on Chase Coleman could get real minutes too.

And agree with Karl, a zone isn’t in the cards. Tony’s got a lot to teach this offseason to a lot of new players just factoring in the Pack Line, CBS, and Sides. Adding zone teaching to the mix is probably just overload right now.