Cavaliers showed off depth in opening win
Finding minutes for talented bench will be challenge
Within the first eight minutes of Wednesday’s 89-54 win over Towson, nine Virginia basketball players had seen court time.
By the end of the game, all 17 Cavaliers got into the game, with nobody eclipsing 25 minutes.
Perhaps Virginia’s biggest strength in 2020-21 is depth.
Seven players scored at least 5 points Wednesday, with Trey Murphy III leading the way. The Cavaliers didn’t even know if Murphy III would be available this season until Tuesday night. In his UVa debut, Murphy III led the way against Towson with 21 points.
Of all the potential stressors for head coach Tony Bennett, finding ways to play all the guys deserving of minutes might top the list.
“The hardest thing for me in coaching, I’ve said it often, is not being able to play guys because they work so hard and they want to play,” Bennett said after Wednesday’s win. “But to play all those different matchups today and rotations was really good.”
Moving forward, finding a rotation will be a challenge for Bennett, but not due to a lack of options.
At point guard, Kihei Clark runs the show. Backup Reece Beekman, a freshman, looked good in his 20 minutes, and he figures to earn minutes all season.
Shooting guards Tomas Woldetensae, Casey Morsell and Kody Stattmann
Radio: may all compete for minutes. Stattmann added 8 points toward the end of Wednesday’s blowout.
On the wing, Sam Hauser looked like a star Wednesday, scoring 19 points on just nine shots from the floor. He led the Wahoos with eight rebounds, too.
Murphy III, a transfer from Rice, scored his 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He’s also likely to see consistent playing time on the wing.
“It was just really exciting to play,” Murphy III said. “We’ve been playing against each other for so long. We’ve been going at it for about four months or so, and it was just fun to play against other guys and play with my teammates.”
Sophomore Justin McKoy earned the start at power forward, filling a unique role. He’s asked to bring energy, rebounding and defense, and he delivered. He scored 2 points to go with three assists and five boards in 21 minutes. He won’t draw headlines, but he’s a quality performer in his role.
He ended the contest with the best plus-minus on the team at plus-24.
“Justin’s very competitive, and he plays real hard, and he’s practiced well,” Bennett said. “He’s improved, very good offensive rebounder, plays continuous, and I just liked that bigger more physical lineup to start.”
Jay Huff started at center, scoring the first points of UVa’s season and ending the game with 14 points on eight shots. He also added four rebounds and blocked three shots. He looked the part of a future NBA big man.
Backup center Francisco Caffaro wasn’t need much in the opener, but his physical presence adds value when bigger opponents appear on the schedule.
Kadin Shedrick also showed flashes in his nine minutes, scoring 2 points while also adding a steal and a block. The redshirt freshman forward is an option in the post.
Other players — such as freshmen Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Carson McCorkle — played a combined nine minutes. Both players may earn more time as the season progresses and they develop. They’re both fighting for time on a loaded roster.
Figuring out how to play 10 or so guys may make Bennett’s job challenging, but it’s a good problem to have.
UVa overwhelmed Towson on Wednesday with an array of shooters and defensive stars, winning by 35 points. The Cavaliers seemed to roll out a new line of stars every few minutes.
“This was kind of like getting thrown into the water with sharks right away,” Towson head coach Pat Skerry said.
Nearly every scholarship player on Virginia’s roster feels deserving of playing time. It’s up to Bennett to determine just how much each player will earn in a game that only lasts 40 minutes.