When the Virginia men’s basketball team takes the floor Saturday against Virginia Tech, fans at John Paul Jones Arena will watch a relatively young and inexperienced squad.
The Cavaliers (10-2, 2-0 ACC) possess elite defensive ability despite their inexperience, but the offense isn’t quite performing up to last season’s lofty standard.
Luckily for Virginia, many of the Cavaliers have time to develop for years to come. Only Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, two extremely valuable frontcourt contributors, will have exhausted their eligibility after this season. Losing those two will hurt, but the Cavaliers have the pieces to fill in for their absence without taking too much of a hit.
With one of the nation’s best recruiting classes coming in next season and Sam Hauser becoming eligible after his transfer from Marquette, it’s no surprise that fans are excited for how the roster could shape out for years to come.
PG: Kihei Clark — The energetic point guard will serve as a team leader again next season as a junior, and he’ll help facilitate an offense that should have more firepower than this year’s squad. Shooting consistency and limiting turnovers are two areas of potential growth for Clark the rest of this year and moving into next.
SG: Casey Morsell — While he’s struggled with his shot, Morsell finds the starting lineup consistently as a freshman. Virginia adds a trio of talented guards in its recruiting class, but Morsell’s defensive ability makes him a player destined to start for the majority of his career at UVa. Once he improves his shooting touch, he’s capable of being an All-ACC performer.
SF: Jabri Abdur-Rahim — An incoming freshman, Abdur-Rahim is a smooth scorer who slots in as a potential starter right out of the gate. The four-star prospect can create his own shot and has a great jumper. If he can perform defensively, he makes sense as a starter from the small forward position. Kody Stattmann and Sam Hauser also make sense as starters in this position. If Hauser starts here, Justin McKoy likely becomes the starting power forward.
PF: Sam Hauser — The Marquette transfer could very well be the team’s best player next season. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his final season at Marquette. While he’s more of a traditional small forward, putting Hauser at power forward allows the Cavaliers to play a slightly smaller lineup that still rebounds well and can score from anywhere.
C: Jay Huff — Francisco Caffaro has earned a few starts over Huff this season, but Huff’s scoring makes him a solid option in the starting unit. With another offseason to improve his defense and to add muscle, Huff makes sense as the team’s starting center.
Key reserves — With this lineup, all five starters can shoot the 3-point shot and score. McKoy makes sense as a starter, as does Stattmann, but they would both bring excellent ability off the bench. I see those two joining Caffaro and Tomas Woldetensae as key reserves. Freshmen Reece Beekman and Carson McCorkle should slot in as backup guards almost immediately. Kadin Shedrick may also see action in the frontcourt as a redshirt freshman, although Shedrick may still be a year away from steady minutes in meaningful action.
Projecting this far out is an even tougher challenge, but with a solid core of young players, it’s not impossible.
PG: Kihei Clark — There’s little doubt here, as the senior will be incredibly experienced by this point. He’ll likely be one of the most valuable players in all of college basketball once he reaches his fourth year.
SG: Casey Morsell — As a junior, Morsell should take the step from low-scoring freshman to a legitimate NBA prospect. If Morsell develops into the type of player the Cavaliers hope, he’ll give Virginia one of the better backcourts in the country.
SF: Jabri Abdur-Rahim — If Abdur-Rahim slots into the starting lineup as a freshman, he’s staying put as a sophomore.
PF: Justin McKoy — While McKoy lacks outside shooting, he makes sense as a starter who could see about 20 minutes per game. He’ll make his mark on the glass and on defense before yielding to players like Kadin Shedrick, who have a slightly more polished offensive game.
C: Francisco Caffaro — He brings much-needed toughness and size to the lineup. By his redshirt junior season, Caffaro may also be a better offensive weapon than many expect. If he’s able to score in the post in addition to his physical play and rebounding prowess, Caffaro becomes a weapon.
Key reserves — Stattmann and Shedrick jump out as obvious contributors off the bench. Beekman and McCorkle will likely need one more season behind Clark and Morsell before taking over in the backcourt. Incoming freshmen, especially frontcourt players, could also add a boost.
Projecting UVa’s future lineups shows — at least on paper — that fans frustrated with the lack of consistent scoring this season will be thrilled by next year’s squad, which could feature seven or eight quality 3-point shooters.