October 26, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Hoos Ready to Fight For Roles

You would probably be surprised if I were to tell you that the top-rated defender on the team in 2019-20 by Synergy efficiency statistics was Kody Stattmann. Now, Synergy’s defensive stats are flawed – as are all defensive rating statistics – because they assign the defender to a play based on who is closest at the end of the play, but they do provide some relatively meaningful data.

Stattmann led the team, giving up 0.461 Points Per Possession, ahead of 99% of Division I players, overall. He gave up less PPP than any other Cavalier in Spot Up, P&R Ball Handler, and Off Screen plays, ranking “Excellent” and over 90% in all of them. The only play type in which he had enough reps to score a ranking and did NOT lead the team was Isolation, where he gave up 0.895 PPP for a low 30% ranking (Tomas Woldetensae was best on the team at 100% ranking, followed by Braxton Key at 93%).

These statistics do not prove that Kody was the best defender on the team, but they do provide backup for what I observed in video breakdown: Stattmann developed into a credible Packline defender as a sophomore. Before the season he spoke of making a commitment to Virginia, and that meant a commitment to defense. He buckled down, and it showed. His minutes played soared from 73 as a freshman to 515 as a sophomore. He averaged 21 minutes per game in a reserve role.

Kody helped himself on defense, being solid and steady, and on occasion his length was a problem for opponents. He struggled on offense, however, not living up to his pre-college reputation as a long-range gunner. Overall, Kody shot 26.9% from the three-point line, but that number is primarily the result of a miserable start to the season. Like the team as a whole, Kody’s marksmanship improved as the season progressed. He shot 32.4% in ACC play, and in the last ten games of the season where the Hoos went 9-1, Kody was 6-11 from the arc. His Synergy offensive efficiency numbers were, in a word, hideous. His overall shooting percentages and a relatively high 20.1 turnover rate (Kenpom) slashed his offensive efficiency, but in that last ten game stretch, he cut his turnovers dramatically, committing just 4 in 159 minutes of action. By contrast, he committed 4 turnovers in one game (Syracuse) and 17 in his first 12 games.

A flood of competitors for Stattmann flowed into Charlottesville this summer. Sam Hauser can play some wing forward. Jabri Abdur-Rahim plays the same wing forward/guard position as Kody. Carson McCorkle and Reece Beekman will compete for those two-guard minutes. Then Kody will face competition from returners Justin McKoy (see below) at the forward position and Casey Morsell at guard. The Kody Stattmann of the last ten games has a chance to carve out a role for himself; the Kody Stattmann of the first twelve games will be a leader of the Green Team. Kody can help himself by working on his rebounding and post defense and offering himself as a combo forward option.

In a recent interview, Sam Hauser singled out Justin McKoy as being improved, and Jason Williford lauded Justin’s work ethic. The Hoos signed Justin late with De’Andre Hunter’s scholarship. They had looked at him in the summer before his senior year, but he committed to Penn State before they could get very far. When he decommitted from Penn State, Virginia’s coaching staff became interested again. When Hunter’s scholarship opened up, they offered Justin, who chose the Hoos over strong interest from NC State and UNC. Roy Williams personally offered the North Carolina native, but he chose Tony Bennett.

McKoy saw spot minutes as a freshman, appearing in 14 games and playing 10+ minutes in six. He scored a career-high 6 points against Purdue, and snagged a career-high 5 rebounds in the home win over UNC. His main contributions were energy and hustle. He was physical, aggressive, and a ball chaser. He played almost exclusively as a blocker, but he brought a well-rounded skill set to college. In high school, he was a good three-point shooter, solid handle, and ability to get to the basket. As a freshman at UVA he did not attempt a single three-point shot. Look for him to compete as more of a combo forward this year, allowing UVA to put a big body at the wing when needed.

As a combo forward, Justin will be competing with Abdur-Rahim, Hauser and Stattmann for wing minutes, and Hauser, Francisco Caffaro and Kadin Shedrick for blocker minutes. Demonstrating an ability to handle the ball and hit threes will help him in that competition. Showing mastery of Packline principles will also help.

Bennett will go with an 8.5-man rotation once the real games start. Five to five-and-a-half of those spots will go to the mover positions, and the competition for those spots will be fierce. Kihei Clark has one nailed down. Woldetensae, Morsell, Beekman, McCorkle, Abdur-Rahim and Stattmann will be competing for guard minutes, with Abdur-Rahim, Stattmann and McKoy fighting for the wing forward spots. Morsell and Woldetensae can slide to the wing when Bennett wants to go small. Hauser can play the wing when he wants to go big. That means eight players are in the mix for 4-4.5 roles. Woldetensae and Morsell are virtually certain to fill two of them, meaning the three talented freshmen are fighting with the returning reserves for one, one-and-a-half spot. The competition will be fierce and it will be interesting to see how Bennett handles the talent vs. experience conundrum this year (I contend he failed that test in 2016-17 but has grown tactically since then).

The singling out of McKoy by Hauser and Williford is intriguing because Justin segues us from the mover discussion to the blocker competition. Bennett’s rotation needs three to three-and-a-half blockers. Jay Huff and Hauser have two of the spots locked up, and each will probably play 30-32 minutes per game, as they are by far the team’s most experienced and offensively-gifted blockers. That means between 15-20 minutes per game are at play.

The competitor for those minutes are 7-0 redshirt sophomore Francisco Caffaro, 6-11 redshirt freshman Kadin Shedrick, and McKoy. These three players are competing for two, and maybe three distinct backup roles in the game plan: Paired With Huff, Paired With Hauser, and Small-Ball Five.

I’m going to be quite explicit that I personally favor Shedrick for all three of these roles and hope that he can win the competition to be the third big. He has more range and quicker feet than Caffaro and is a true shot-challenger. Caffaro is Salt 2.0, by which I mean not Salt Redux but Salt Improved. He’s a big, aggressive body who like Salt plays the Bull In a China Shop game well, and protects the rim with his ability to be big, but he has more offensive game than Salt. His offensive game, however, is still restricted to the lane, and his defensive numbers per Synergy were not good. He is also a terrible free throw shooter.

Shedrick was a late bloomer in high school, more of a baseball player than a basketball player as a youth until a growth spurt in high school took him from 6-1 to 6-11 in 13 hours (exaggeration). When he was dabbling in basketball before the growth spurt, he was a guard. When he sprouted like Jack’s beanstalk and became a 6-11 center, he retained much of his guard game. He can shoot pretty well from distance and handle the ball well for a big man. Combined with that is a good post game and a ferocious attitude on defense and the boards. He has good shotblocker instincts to go along with great length and a quick jump. All of this made him #65 in the RSCI list for 2019. He had a classic matchup against then-#1 high school prospect Isaiah Todd in his last high school season. Shedrick had a monster game with 21 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, a block and no turnovers.

I prefer Shedrick over Caffaro for his more diverse and nuanced offensive game, and his great potential to be a destroyer on defense. He has the feet to be a disruptor on the hedge-and-recover and the shot-challenging to be an intimidator around the rim. In the Paired With Huff role, I think Shedrick works better on the defensive end because 1) he can better deal with perimeter-oriented fours than either Huff or Caffaro, and 2) he can better replicate the Huff-Diakite nightmare for opposing offenses in the paint. On offense he can run the baseline and provide the Low in a High-Low game with Huff. He should also be able to run the pick-and-roll effectively with his length, agility and dexterity.

In the Paired With Hauser role, both Caffaro and Shedrick can provide the classic 5 game for Hauser to play off of. Shedrick offers the advantage on defense of true rim protection that would be absent in a Hauser-Caffaro pairing, and on offense he could better replace Huff in the pick & roll. Similarly, in the Small Ball Five role, Shedrick’s shotblocking would provide a factor that would be missing with Caffaro on the floor, whereas on offense Caffaro might have the edge in providing a paint presence for the four perimeter players to surround. Shedrick, however, would offer more potential for inverting the offense.

McKoy paired with Hauser would be akin to having two combo forwards at the blocker positions. It would be a flavor of small-ball. Height would be missing from the defense, but McKoy provides a Zayesque scramble ability. On offense, Hauser and McKoy could be interchangeable in going from the post to the corner. When paired with Huff, McKoy slides into the classic power forward role. He can match up with smaller fours on defense, and on offense he would set screens and work the weakside boards. Against teams with a quicker four, McKoy probably pairs best with Huff of the three options. As a Small Ball Five, McKoy does not provide rim protection, but he would create a high pressure, high energy, scramble defense that could put a lot of pressure on opponents’ ballhandling and decision-making.

The two keys for how much playing time Shedrick can earn are 1) how well he picks up the recovery-rotation principles of the Packline and 2) how well he sets screens. Caffaro has a natural advantage in both of these areas. He is a year ahead of Shedrick, with more time in the system and 150 minutes of floor time on Shedrick, and that usually leads to greater mastery of the defensive responsibilities. Bigs typically struggle on the hedge-and-recover in their first year or two of floor time, being foul prone and creating desperation rotation situations for their teammates. Caffaro has the Salt brick wall screen ability that Shedrick does not share. Still, good screening is more about moving your feet and reading the play than bulk, which is why both Diakite and Huff were good screeners last season.

If I had to make a prediction, I would say that Caffaro will probably be the third big, with both Shedrick and McKoy seeing time in specific situations and roles. If I were making the game plans, I would set aside “developmental minutes” for Shedrick in every game, to develop him for the future. Bennett, however, does not do “developmental minutes”, so don’t expect to see Shedrick unless he fits the specific game situation better than Caffaro.

Putting together the discussion in the last article and what we have seen above, I expect the rotation to consist of Clark, Morsell, Woldetensae, Beekman, Abdur-Rahim, Huff, Hauser, Caffaro and the half spot shared by Shedrick, McKoy and Stattmann. We might see a McCorkle redshirt. I think the first seven above are locks, with Shedrick perhaps knocking Caffaro out of the eighth spot and McCorkle possibly locking down that .5 spot. The main reason I see McCorkle as the odd man out on the perimeter is because he is competing with Morsell and Woldetensae for guard minutes, and both have big experience and defense advantages over him. Woldetensae has 785 floor minutes and Morsell 653. While Morsell has more publicity with the Brogdon defense comparisons, Woldetensae grades out very well defensively on the numbers, and he was a strong rebounding guard and surprisingly nimble ballchaser with good hands. Late in the season, Woldetensae stayed on the floor in late game defensive situations. Still, if McCorkle can 1) be a halfway competent defender and 2) get his shot off against ACC defenses with even close to the marksmanship he showed at Greensboro Day, he would have a chance to edge those two out unless they show marked improvement in their ability to hit shots against good defense.

From this look into the roster, it is abundantly clear that talent is ample, and the team has a good blend of youth and experience, with talent present in both places. With the most consensus top-100 talents Bennett has ever had on an active roster, the Hoos are a favorite to win the ACC and successfully defend their national title. The consensus of national observers puts Virginia at #4 coming into the season. If Americans get their shit together and wear their masks, we should get to see the Hoos play this year. We could see three Hoos make first-team All-ACC, as I expect Hauser to be a star, Huff to be a monster, and Kihei to fulfill Ty Jerome’s prediction from last year by being the best point guard in the ACC.

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