Roster Construction Philosophies
It's officially the off-season, unfortunately, which is also the start of recruiting season. I like to approach recruiting with a breakdown of roster needs. But before one can really dive into discussions of recruiting needs, a foundation has to be laid with respect to roster construction ideology. In other words, what's the blend of depth, experience, and positions that you're targeting? Obviously this varies school to school, so what I'm about to say here about UVA doesn't necessarily translate to most other programs. But at this point at Virginia, we know pretty clearly what the coaching staff is trying to do each season, so building an ideal roster to fit it is a manageable endeavor.
First, the constraints and considerations:
Scholarship Limit - NCAA says no more than 13 on scholarship any year. Pretty simple.
The Packline Defense - As a true man defense, the roster needs to be versatile to be able to play matchups as required. That means needing a strong center to play against other throwback low post bangers. It means needing rangy wings who can guard modern combo forwards. It means needing tenacious, quick guards who can stay in front of fast, breakdown ball-handlers. And length is always a plus, as is rim protection that can enable guards to play more aggressive defense.
The Sides Offense - Our offensive system, alternatively called Sides or Blocker-Mover, sees one guard at the top of the floor with the ball, and each side of the floor with a guard/wing and a post. The post is a blocker who sets a screen first and then looks for the ball second. The wing is a mover who is looking to utilize screens to get the ball in position to shoot or make a move. This system doesn't necessarily require two true bigs to run, though having a post scoring threat does greatly improve floor spacing and balance. Shooting is a must from all movers, and a plus for a blocker.
The Small-Ball Revolution - Putting perimeter-oriented players at the 4 is all the rage for a reason: the positive impacts on offensive spacing are tangible, and if you can do so without sacrificing much (if any) on defense or rebounding, all the better. This impacts roster construction because (a) Tony has enjoyed the ability to play small with big wings like Hunter or Brogdon at the 4, and (b) because even if we roll out a traditional 2-big lineup, we still have to be able to defend small-ball opponents.
Attrition - This most commonly applies to outbound transfers, but also includes early NBA entry, and academic, discipline, or injury losses (temporary or permanent). It's very uncommon for a projected roster to stay intact for very long, so when recruiting, recruit attrition insurance. You have to remember that most recruiting is done and locked in a full year before those players will hit campus (most players commit before their senior seasons), so when attrition happens, it's usually too late to find someone to immediately plug right in (grad transfers are a risky bet for this situations), underscoring the importance of recruiting that extra depth well in advance.
Over-recruiting - The flip side to recruiting enough depth to be prepared for unexpected attrition is the risk of have so much depth that it causes chemistry issues, or impedes development of younger players who can't get to the floor. It also limits your flexibility in additional recruiting should the perfect target come available late but you've already "spent" all 13, or when a player sees a ton of older players already in place and chooses to go somewhere with a clear path to early PT.
Redshirting - Redshirting is a loaded word for a lot of people, and different programs view the practice very differently. Virginia is in a camp with Villanova and Gonzaga where they're a good tool for the right players. Maybe it's taking transfers, maybe it's elective developmental. But this is a good tool for raw-but-high-upside players, and a valuable way to use the back end of your 13 scholarships.
Second, a brief discussion of positions:
The way we run our systems, I like to break our players into three position groups.
Guards - These are guys you trust to orchestrate the offense. They're purely Movers in the offense. You trust them with the ball in their hands to make a good pass, to beat pressure, to see the floor. Would play the 1 or 2 in traditional lineups, maybe the 3 with enough size (such as Devon Hall or Malcolm Brogdon). Must Haves: Shooting, ball handling, decision making. Nice to Haves: Size, speed.
Wings - These guys are more scorers than they are facilitators. They typically act as movers in the Sides offense, but with enough size can play as a blocker in a smaller set. Would play the 2 or 3 in a traditional lineup, with the flexibility to play the 4 in a small ball lineup. Must Haves: Size, shooting, rebounding. Nice to Haves: Athleticism, ball handling
Posts - These are the "Blockers" in our Sides offense. I think of these as guys who have limited handles on offense, so they can't play on the perimeter beyond maybe spot up shooting. Must be able to defend in space on the hard hedge. Would play the 4 or 5 in traditional lineups. Must Haves: Size, athleticism, rebounding, post scoring. Nice to Haves: Rim Protection, shooting.
1) Project for 11 eligible, ready players. The goal is to have no fewer than 9 ACC-level, playable guys during the season, so aiming for 11 gives you that attrition insurance. Going beyond 11 risks over-recruiting if attrition doesn't occur, like the 2016-17 season.
2) Minimum of 3 ball handlers. Think how great it is to have 3 ball-handlers on the court at tip-off with Jerome, Guy, and Hall, and how versatile that makes the offense. Those guys can play the point or move off ball with equal efficiency, and allows the exploitation of mismatches. At a bare minimum you want two on the floor at any time, so having three gives insurance and the ability to rotate.
3) Be able to be versatile at the 4. This used to just be about responding defensively to various looks from opposing offenses, but since last year it's also been about improving our offensive spacing as well. We need to have enough depth to play traditional power forwards at the 4 in some games, preferably with a stretch 4, but also to go four-guard/wing for long stretches as well when the match up calls for it.
The ideal roster:
4 Guards - You want two on the floor at any time at a minimum, with another on the bench providing major reserve minutes, so you can be safely rotating them throughout the game. Having sufficient depth here also means you can play three guards at a time (assuming at least one of them has good size, 6'4"-6'5", to cover opposing 3's) and allow your wings to slide down to a 4-spot in a small ball lineup.
3 Wings - With the small ball revolution, you always need at least one available (so preferably 2 on the roster to be safe) to have the size and physicality to play at the 4-spot. If there's any position group that it's safe to be down a body, this is probably it, such as this year where only Marco and Hunter really fill that role, or 2013-14 when Joe and Justin were our only two wings, though having a young third to bring along slowly and provide injury insurance is beneficial.
4 Posts - This used to be 5 bodies here, but with the shift to playing more small, there's less need to stock up on big guys. 4 players lets you have a primary rotation of 3 of them, with another being brought along slowly or available if needed for injury, while also having minutes available to give to a wing in a small lineup.
1 Developmental Redshirt and/or 1 Transfer Redshirt - As discussed above, if you're going to try and limit the number of active players on game day to 10 or 11, then it's an obvious choice to use the last scholarship or two on redshirts who will be ready a year down the road, and also provide additional good competition in practice.
This checks all of the boxes discussed above. Obviously it's a target, and in any given year it may fall a body short in one or more categories due to attrition.
But this is a roster that gives Coach Bennett a lot of versatility, the ability to play either big or small, and the ability to put multiple ball-handlers on the floor at one time while having another available in reserve. It also allows Tony to stash future contributors on the bench, has enough minutes available for high upside freshmen to get on the floor and grow, and leaves room for last minute must-take targets (or rewarding well-deserving walk-ons!).
This is just my opinion, and I know it's never going to work out perfectly, and that Tony and the staff may see things differently. But if I were going to have a big recruiting white board in the staff offices in JPJ, this is how I would be targeting to spend my 13 scholarships in any given year.