The Final Season: Return of the Beast

A tragedy for one player was the opportunity for another to be the Next Man Up

On the morning of the game, around the time Miami and Wake were kicking off the action, rumors hit Twitter that Ben Vander Plas had suffered a broken wrist. Just before gametime, the rumors were confirmed: Vander Plas is done for the season. It was devastating news for a young man who came to UVA for his last season of college basketball precisely to participate in this tournament and the one that will follow. After starting the last 14 games of the season, Bennett Vander Plas was done. It was heartbreaking.

But a tournament game was there to be won and the Hoos couldn't go into mourning. The next man had to step up. Francisco Caffaro replaced Vander Plas in the starting lineup, a replacement that might have been a good thing anyway, with Armando Bacot on the floor for the opponent. Bacot overpowering Virginia around the basket was the most potent threat to the Hoos' chances of victory against a Heels team that absolutely had to win this game to have any chance of escaping the NIT of Hell and passing through the Pearly Gates to the NCAA Tournament.

Caffaro started and did well, but it was Kadin Shedrick who really made the difference. The Kadin Shedrick who swaggered into Vegas and looked ready to fulfill the potential he had displayed in AAU and high school ball, and in flashes of his first two seasons of play for Tony Bennett, came off the bench when Caffaro picked up the inevitable second foul.

Shedrick eased into the game, playing his part in some excellent Virginia defense, but demonstrating on his first scoring opportunity the weakness with the ball that probably contributed to his fall from grace in January. Getting the ball mere inches from the rim against Pete Nance, Shedrick tried to finesse the ball around Nance, appearing completely intimidated by the prospect of getting stuffed at the rim. The result was worse than Shedrick apparently feared: his shot was swatted down and bounced to a Heel guard who turned it into a fast break. His second opportunity was no better as he weakly lost the ball in traffic.

But Kadin continued to be strong on defense and avoided that other bugaboo from earlier in the season: the dumb foul. He was sound and continuous, moved his feet and kept his hands to himself. He only picked up one first half foul and hence was able to play 9 minutes. He didn't score, but he blocked two shots and must have gained the same confidence those of us watching gained in him, because in the second half The Beast came out.

Shedrick played ten more minutes in the second half. He played with confidence and control not evident as his playing time plummeted to zero. He did commit three fouls, including the obligatory foul with his face that had him on the bench checking the chicklets, but he was strong hedging and stalwart in defense of the rim with three blocked shots. He rocked the rim on a classic Sides screen and roll with Reece Beekman to blunt one Carolina charge, and threw down the exclamation point on the victory on a beautifully unselfish pass from Armaan Franklin.

Last night's performance was a great sign for Virginia because the Hoos are a better, more dangerous team with a strong Kadin Shedrick in the rotation - even with Vander Plas but ever so moreso without. We'll need more rebounds from him - he only had 1 - and he needs to be more ferocious with the ball, but his mobility and verticality on defense will be very important against PJ Hall and Clemson tonight, and in whatever games remain after that.

Free Throws

Back on December 7, I wrote an article where I enthused over Virginia's very un-Virginia-like 53% Free Throw Rate (FTr). At that time, nearly the end of the non-conference schedule, the Hoos were attacking the rim, getting to the line, and scoring points at a 2019 rate. Virginia finished its non-conference slate with a 49.6% FTr, which put them near the top of Division I and was a big part of averaging 71.3 ppg. It made them a top 5 team.

Then ACC play began, and the Hoos scuffled, eventually dropping to #13 a couple of times. The offense slowed down, especially in the month of February when they managed just 61.6 points per contest - which included an overtime game.

The Free Throw rate? That plummeted in ACC play, to just 28.4%. It's a stunning decline, a steepness of descent rarely seen in a team's non-conference vs conference stats. There usually is some decline in offensive stats due to the lack of cupcakes in conference play, but a 40% drop is unusual.

Why the decline? No idea. But it is something to watch now that March and the post-conference season are here. The rate was 44.9% last night, in large part because the Heels had to foul late.

This game would have been very, very different had Virginia not shot free throws much better in the last two minutes than they had throughout the conference season. Three missed free throws had contributed to one Carolina push in the mid-second half, but down the stretch Kihei Clark (4-4) and Jayden Gardner (5-6) coolly dropped nine out of ten through the net to seal the win. Virginia will need both the FTr and last two minutes FT% if tournament success is going to come.


I was not sure who I wanted to win the Clemson-NC State game. The Wolfpack's explosiveness made me nervous, but they will make a lot of mistakes when not completely focused and fatigue would be a definite factor. Clemson is a good team with an excellent defense, but they are more of a slogger and more containable. PJ Hall is a fantastic player and Hunter Tyson has surprised me with his growth into one of the best players in the league. It should be a very good game with Caffaro and Shedrick again being crucial to success.

A Clemson win would not be the end of the world for me. Sure, I want the Hoos to win every game and another ACC Tournament Championship would be awesome, but if Loonardi is right and Clemson is currently out of the NCAA Tournament, I could deal with a win over us getting them in, because Clemson absolutely is a tournament team and being excluded would be absurd. Plus I like Brad Brownell and respect his program.

Neutralizing Hall is crucial, and Caffaro and Shedrick are up to the task if they really focus on keeping hands off and the puppies moving. Be positional, be vertical, and always be conscious. Hall is an inside-outside threat. The rotations are going to have to be tight like they were last night. Gardner and Dunn need to box Tyson off the boards and cannot lose track of him on offense. He is a deadly open three-point shooter. Clemson's guards don't worry me.

Look for Clemson to be better-prepared for Sides than they were a few days ago. Switching sets was key last night and will be at least as much against a better defensive team in the Tigers.

Armaan Franklin will be key. A big offensive game from him should assure victory.

Speaking of Armaan, he absolutely turned the game with his block and three-pointer in the second half when Carolina was making one of their ref-assisted pushes. He also hit an important pair of free throws early in the game.

And finally, I will be rooting hard for Miami tonight. I want no part of the media piranha craze we will endure if we play Duke. All we will see, all we will hear about for at least 24 hours will be the last play of regulation in Charlottesville and The Horrible Injustice Poor Duke Suffered. I want no part of it. I'd rather get revenge on Miami.

Seattle Hoo
March 10, 2023