The Final Season: The Dynamic Duo

The All-ACC awards were announced yesterday and the ACC Tournament begins today. For the first time in four years, the Defensive Player of the Year will lead UVA into battle.

The ACC Tournament begins today. The regular season co-champion and #2 seed will enter the tournament with no first-team all-ACC players, and no second-team all-ACC players. Their coach MUST be the Coach of the Year! Hm, no, not Coach of the Year: He received two votes. It was, as our Twitter account said, an "[u]nintended compliment to the truly balanced, team-oriented nature of this year's success."

The two Hoos who did make it onto an all-ACC team are the main topic of this article. I wanted to include them yesterday, but decided that 2400 words was enough to make people read in one day. It was fitting that they would be announced as two-fifths of the ACC All-Defense team. The Hoos were able to have the success they did because a backcourt pairing that before the season I felt would limit this team has been its strength. Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark made it work. They were able to make it work because Clark was able to play effectively off the ball and let Reece have it. Kihei made the adjustment, and it worked.

Defensively, the two overcame a relative lack of size. Against most teams, Beekman would match up fine size-wise with the point guard, but be smaller than the off guard. If the Hoos matched up size by size, the backcourt would be perennially undersized. Most often, they started off that way, but Tony Bennett frequently changed matchups to adapt to game play. If a guard was abusing Kihei, Reece would go onto him. Tony generally tried to have Reece guard the best scorer and Kihei take the ballhandler.

Having Kihei take the primary ballhandler played to his strengths and minimized his height deficiency. You dribble to the floor, so the smaller guy has the advantage. It was why Muggsy Bogues was such a terror to ACC point guards. This season more than any other, Kihei approached that level of harassment. The other benefit of keeping Kihei locked up on the ballhandler was that it freed Reece up to be the best off-ball guard defender in the league. Reece has a preternatural ability to anticipate the "help!" pass. In a defense not focused on generating steals, Beekman was a master thief because of his anticipation. He was able to jump passes without gambling. We saw the pick-sixes. What I defy you to pull out of your memory is a clip of Beekman getting beat on the pass. He knew, he just knew when and where the pass was going to be thrown.

Virginia comes into the tournament with the league's best defensive backcourt. The offense is not bad, either, but if the Hoos are to advance in either tournament, the guards will have to shoot like they did in the non-conference season, not like they did in ACC play. Kihei was over 38% from three in non-conference play and only 35% in ACC games. Reece has a season average of 38.2% while hitting 33.3% in the ACC. They also will have to raise their percentages at the rim, because neither player reached 50%. That won't cut it in the NCAA Tournament.

I am happy to say that I was wrong in thinking Kihei's return would inhibit Reece's development and limit his role. The only thing that inhibited Reece this year was injury.

For the Hoos to have tournament success, Reece and Kihei are going to need to hit their threes consistently and finish better at the rim than they did for much of the season. In tournament play, you have to be able to get to the rim and convert.

Who You Play

One of the reasons I used to contend that tournament success is a poor basis upon which to rate a season is that how deep you go is very dependent on who you play. Get the wrong matchup in your first game and you're out. With that in mind, I want to see Boston College beat Louisville today and then take down the Heels on Wednesday. The Hoos don't match up well with Carolina with Armando Bacot. The Richmond native has developed into a top big man and a major problem for Virginia. His offensive rebounding and his domination in the paint contribute to Carolina's guards shooting better from the arc against Virginia than in general. We were lucky he was unable to play in Charlottesville.

Carolina scares me. Now, Boston College has some characteristics that make them a threat, too, with the big man and the guards who can bully ours and shoot over the top. Their win in Boston was not a fluke. They are capable of putting together a game that would beat the Hoos, but we would be their third game in three days, and it is highly unlikely they will be able to maintain the energy needed to win for an entire 40 minutes. At some point in the second half, they will start to make mistakes, and the Hoos will take control.

That said, the Return of Sides that I wrote of in my previous column could help here, by allowing Bennett to go big and give more run to Francisco Caffaro and maybe even the disappearing Kadin Shedrick. They fit more in the Sides offense than the other sets Virginia has run this season. Caffaro, at least, has some history of success in containing Bacot. He could make a difference here. He would against BC's Post, too, but because of the energy issue I see that as less of a factor.

The Disappearing Kadin Shedrick

I had not planned to write about Shedrick, but a reader on Twitter asked, so I will address the issue. Kadin's receding role and absolute lack of run lately is probably the biggest surprise of the season, and the absence of a big jump in his production this season is really disappointing. If you had told me in October that Kadin Shedrick would be a DNP-Coach's Decision in February games and UVA would win a share of the ACC Regular Season Championship, I would have told you to getthefuckouttahere. No way would I have thought this team could succeed without a major contribution from Shedrick.

I had big expectations for Shedrick this year, and in Las Vegas, it looked like he was on pace to meet those expectations. His season took a wrong turn after that. Maybe he just took too many shots to the head, or maybe something else was going on, but Kadin did not progress the way we thought he would. His drift to the end of the bench was not completely from his play, as Tony went to small ball for strategic reasons not completely related to Kadin, but when Shedrick did play he did not give Coach any reason to rethink his role in a positive way.

The two shortcomings that dismayed me and probably contributed to his fall from grace were the dumb fouls and being weak with the ball. All Bennett big men commit dumb fouls their first year or two of real action. The demands of the defense on bigs put them in position to do so, and it takes experience to learn how to avoid them. This was the third year of action, when Bennett's bigs historically see their foul rate drop and they become fixtures on the floor. For whatever reason, Kadin did not make that leap. He continued to commit the same dumb fouls he did last year. I'm sure it frustrated Bennett as much as it did me. Keep doing it and you lose your coach's trust.

Kadin also has throughout his career been weak with the ball. He gets it taken away from him too often and too easily. He gets bullied off the ball in any number of ways by even small guys. It was the biggest thing I thought he needed to address after last season if he was going to make the leap into an offensive force. And he just did not do so. He continued to get stripped or knocked off the ball, bumped into missing shots, and outmuscled for boards. The strain his poor ball security put on the defense canceled out much of his defensive prowess.

We might yet see a Shedrick Resurgence. I hope we do. The ceiling is much higher if Kadin is a beast. Maybe more Sides will help him. Bringing the Continuity Ball Screen set out of the deep freeze also would help Kadin, I believe. He excelled as a rim runner. Both Sides and CBS would suit him and give Kihei plenty of opportunities to lob him the ball. But he has to relax, regain confidence, and stop the stupid fouls if he is going to get that chance.

Finally, with regard to Shedrick - and Caffaro - I would be remiss if I did not point out that on at least a significant portion of his fouls, Kadin's looks of "what did I do?" mystification were warranted. He - and Caffaro - appeared to get called for the little things everybody does, as if critical eyes were glued to him at all times. For whatever combination of reasons, both Shedrick and Caffaro have seen their foul rates go up this season, a movement that is highly unusual for Bennett bigs.

An ability to play big would be a great boon to the Hoos in this new Final Season.

Seattle Hoo
March 7, 2023