For the first time since last season, the Virginia men’s basketball team played at John Paul Jones Arena.
While Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage won’t go down in the win/loss column, Cavalier fans got their first look at this year’s team.
The Cavaliers’ starting unit didn’t disappoint, with big men Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite leading the way. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser starred and Braxton Key looked the part of an ACC starter.
There were highs in the game, especially for the front court, but there are also plenty of areas for improvement in the next three weeks before the season opener.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage:
Young players need more time
Luckily, the season doesn’t start until next month, so the underclassmen will get that necessary time to develop. Redshirt freshman center Francisco Caffaro, freshman forwards Kadin Shedrick and Justin McKoy stood out as capable front court players who could use more time to develop.
None of those three look nearly as polished offensively as their upperclassmen teammates at the same position. That’s to be expected, given their age and inexperience, but it’s unlikely that any freshmen take a consistent chunk of playing time away from Diakite, Huff or Key.
Expect Caffaro to be one of the first front court players off the bench because of his size and defensive ability. He finished Saturday’s scrimmage with five points and made a few good defensive plays.
In the back court, sophomore Jayden Nixon played sound defense and freshman Casey Morsell looked like a capable starter. Despite a good showing from Morsell, he wasn’t particularly efficient offensively and missed a few good looks on 3-point shots. Regardless, his size and defensive ability make him a candidate to start at shooting guard.
Freshman guard Chase Coleman showed good speed, but he’s another player who could benefit from more time learning Bennett’s system and adjusting to the college game. Virginia’s projected starting five looks solid, but there’s need for improvement from the players expected to add depth to the rotation.
Diakite and Huff are hard to handle
The duo combined for 33 points, including an alley-oop from Diakite to Huff to open the event’s scoring. Huff used four dunks to help tally his 18 points. He also excelled on the glass, grabbing rebounds from within crowds in the paint.
He’s previously had a reputation for being a shooter and finesse player, but Huff looked tougher than previous years. He didn’t just hold his own in the low post, he moved players around, snatched rebounds and slammed the ball through the hoop.
Diakite enters this season with the opposite reputation. He’s a physical player with excellent shot-blocking skill and finishing ability from within the paint and areas just outside it. The redshirt senior flashed his improved perimeter shooting touch in this one, burying three shots from beyond the arc.
With Diakite and Huff both possessing 3-point shooting touch and physical strength in the low post, they’re going to be a nightmare for opposing teams to stop.
Don’t forget about Kody Stattmann
After playing in 18 games last season, Stattmann looks ready for a larger role this season. He dropped 10 points in Saturday’s scrimmage, trailing only Diakite, Hauser and Huff in scoring.
Of his 10 points, six of them came from a pair of 3-point shots. He showed the ability to stretch the floor at 6-foot-7, and he made a few nice drives to the rim. His ball handling seems like the weakest area of his game, but if he’s on the floor at the same time as someone like Kihei Clark, that weakness gets concealed.
His efficiency as a passer stood out during Saturday’s scrimmage. He didn’t always have the assist on scoring plays, but there were numerous occasions where his pass led to another pass that created an easy bucket. Fundamental passing is a valuable talent in Tony Bennett’s offense.
While Morsell is a more athletic player who brings better perimeter defending to the table, Stattmann may find himself competing for the starting shooting guard spot due to his efficiency and length. If he doesn’t crack the starting lineup, he’s likely to fill a sixth-man role as the first guy off the bench. He’s tall enough to play shooting guard or small forward.
Sam Hauser is ready to contribute
Hauser won’t have a chance to contribute this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but the forward offers a skill set similar to Braxton Key. Hauser is the better shooter, but they’re both solid defenders with quality size and athleticism. UVa will love having him available for the 2020-21 season.
The Marquette transfer scored 12 points in the scrimmage, with three made shots coming as the shot clock or game clock expired. His awareness on the court was impressive, as he left enough time to make a scoring move before putting the shot up in each of these three buzzer-beating opportunities.
When Hauser does join Virginia’s active roster next season, he’s going to enter the league as one of the ACC’s top players. His shooting touch, defensive ability and previous experience make him a unique player in the college game.
Braxton Key made improvements
Key possesses a similar level of defensive ability to what he flashed last season, but it’s the offensive improvements that stand out the most. While he wasn’t able to knock a 3-pointer down despite multiple attempts, Key finished through contact at the rim on a few occasions en route to nine points.
He’s a player expected to take a leap this season, and his shooting stroke looked solid even though the ball didn’t find its way through the net. Assuming he increases his 3-point shooting percentage when the season rolls around, Key could become a dynamic force within the ACC given his versatility on defense and his improved finishing ability in the paint.