Making Sense of the Virginia Bench (2021-2022)

As the most challenging season under his tenure, certainly since the rise of the program, came to a close Tuesday night, Coach Tony Bennett offered some candid thoughts about his roster. He said, “Every player that returns in this program, they’d better take a step in terms of commitment and in their strength and their ability and commit and work. If they don’t want to, they shouldn’t be here. I don’t want ‘em. But I believe they will. That’s the entry level for this high level. So they’ve got to decide, and nothing’s guaranteed. Playing time is not guaranteed. You work. You come together.”

And then, later, “It’s hard coming in as a first-year. And you got to have patience, and if they’re good enough, they’ll play. If they’re not ready, they’ll improve and they’ll get ready at some point, just like the guys in this program. But certainly those guys that come back that played a lot, they should be better.”

The subtext was clear; he’s counting on the core returning guys who logged big minutes this year, (likely) Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Kadin Shedrick, and Francisco Caffaro, to continue to work and improve and see playing time. It was a challenge issued to those players who didn’t, the 3 Ms: Taine Murray, Carson McCorkle, and Igor Milicic Jr.

This may have been a nod, and certainly was informative, to the ongoing discussion throughout the year about why these three players were not seeing much playing time and, eventually, were mostly phased out of the rotation altogether. Specifically, there has been much hand wringing, from myself included, about none of them cracking the line up over journeyman senior (heads up that I’m going to be using standard CBB terms for years, not “fourth-year”) Kody Stattmann or former walk on Malachi Poindexter. For all three, the upside and promise appeared to be higher, certainly on the offensive side of the ball. Given the struggles of the team to score throughout the year, the youth of the three in question, and their perceived upside, many fans expressed frustration at the preferred playing time for Stattmann (and to a much lesser extent, Poindexter) in CTB’s shortened rotation.

In this post, I’m going to examine the opportunity that the 3Ms were presented over the flow of the season.

Framing the Conversation

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to talk mostly about Kody’s usage vs. the 3 Ms and not focus as much on Malachi. He actually played fewer total minutes than Taine and only 20 more than Igor. He played for mostly the same defensive reasons that Kody did, only he was the quickest of five, so CTB seemed to use him when absolutely necessary down the stretch when quickness was a factor. The fact that he was seeing preferential PT to close the season should illustrate some of the points below, but he’s likely not going to be a major factor in the coming years.

It was clear coming into this season, and carried over from last, that Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman were going to be holding down the bulk of the minutes at the PG and SG positions, respectively. Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro were the only real centers on the roster, and they mostly covered that position all year (occasionally CTB played a small ball lineup with Stattmann and Gardner at the 4 and the 5). This left most of the available bench minutes to come from the 3 and 4 position, backing up Franklin and Gardner. This appeared to be ideal for Igor, whose 6’10” frame and with a guard skillset seemed perfect as a stretch 4 or size mismatch at 3. Unfortunately, he was delayed in joining the team during the offseason, which gave him limited time to practice within the defensive system. Stattmann, at 6’7″, was better suited for the SF position but could also potentially run the 4 given his length if CTB felt the matchups warranted. Taine was, perhaps, a better fit for the SG position but, given the dual PG lineup, he could also play SF at 6’5″. One thing we’ll see is that CTB actually played him quite a bit at 4, which was not ideal for his skillset, but was also an indication that he wanted to get Taine time on the court. This was not an ideal situation for McCorkle at 6’3″ trying to find minutes.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about CTB over the years, it’s not simply that defense comes first, it’s that experience within the defensive system, or being able to pick it up quickly, is crucial to working your way onto the floor. So, it was correctly presumed that the senior Stattmann would see significant minutes at the start of the season, potentially McCorkle would see early time as well with one season under his belt. Most fans assumed that the offensive promise of the 3 Ms would work them into the rotation as they became more comfortable executing the Pack Line over the span of the season. There was some urgency around this sentiment, however, as Kody hadn’t earned much run over his previous three years, looked slow with the ball off the bounce, had a perceived lack of athleticism/capped potential, and wasn’t going to be with the program after the end of the year. Better to, in the fan’s minds, get experience for players who might help the program down the road as our talented recruiting class arrives.

There are two philosophical challenges with this mindset and one practical one:

Firstly, CTB always prioritizes doing whatever he thinks provides the best opportunity to win the current game. He has argued in the past that’s what’s owed the fans, that’s what his job is, that’s what’s fair to the other players who are working together to achieve the same result. He has always deferred to practice over game time for player development if he does not feel that player is yet ready to take the court. To him, and what’s proven successful all of these years, that means five players working harmoniously on defense, executing the system, being able to make the best decision around what shift to make, which man to cover, and also physically being able to execute the scheme well.

Secondly, although we’ve historically been good in the transfer market and we have started to lose more players early to the NBA (and also to the same transfer market), CTB’s system has always been designed to best support players who stick with it for as long as possible. Redshirting, weight training, years of repetition within the defense, these things have lead to past successes. If he were to bypass a more game ready Stattmann for PT in his senior year, that would send the wrong message to the rest of his players and undermine the pillars of his program. It’s that program that has allowed players to be greater than the sum of their parts over the years and that has helped to create such a success rate when transitioning to the professional level. It’s the draw to recruits and the backbone of the team often out preforming its individual skill level.

Lastly, in addition to being tied for 4th best Defensive Box Plus/Minus on the team, Kody was an actual improvement on offense over Murray or McCorkle over the span of the season with a -.2 (still below average) Offensive BP/M compared to Murray’s -.5 and McCorkle’s -4.0 (not good when you’re billed as the sniper). Given that the main early draw of the 3 Ms was focused on their ability to shoot from outside, Stattmann shot .339 on his 59 attempts while Milicic shot .364 on his 22, Murray shot .348 on his 23, and McCorkle shot .313 on his 16. Igor’s metrics are going to funnel into a separate conversation at the end of this, but the fact of the matter is that while criticisms about his offensive impact were valid, Kody was still a slightly more efficient offensive player than Murray and considerably more effective than McCorkle, while being comfortable within the defense. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus much more on the defensive differences between the players as that’s where the biggest gap was to be found, certainly when contrasting Kody and Taine.

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

Good insight as to how CTB intended to start his season can be found by looking at the first game against Navy. At this point, Kody was clearly the firm 6th man. He was first off of the bench in the game, prior to even the first four minute timeout and this was his first defensive possession of the season:

First off, at 6’7″ look how huge Stattmann looks guarding Navy’s 6’3″ Sean Yoder (#3). When Kihei’s man blows by him on the dribble, Kody is in perfect position to come over to help, and his length is enough to block (or at least impact) the shot. His knowledge of the defense put him in position to make the play and, notice, his man was all the way on the other side of the court when he did. Excellent help defense.

An offensive trip down the court later, he hit this shot on what I have to assume was a designed play for him (or just great awareness from Caffaro).

It looks like a design to get the double in the post and then pin down Yoder on the help side with a screen from Caffaro, but it’s also possible that Caffaro just saw the opportunity and made a play. He directs traffic pointing for Jayden to find Kody, which he may not have done if it was a design. Either way, it was a good start from Stattmann. I’m not going to pull many offensive videos but I will discuss their play as flash points during the season. I pull this one for the purpose of illustrating how Kody was intentionally very involved in the totality of the team’s game plan to start the season. Unfortunately, the offensive momentum did not carry throughout the game and these were his only points, despite the team running several possessions through him shortly after that make. Nevertheless, his defense remained solid if unspectacular, and this was one of the worst team defensive efforts of the year from a standpoint of several of the starters still adjusting to the scheme.

It was a night and day contrast with the Murray and McCorkle, however, who tasted just 2 and 1 minute respectively. Of the 3 Ms, Taine appeared to be the one CTB most wanted to integrate into the team early. He came onto the floor ahead of the 10 minute mark in this game. The problem was, with Clark, Beekman, Franklin, and Stattmann all ahead of him on the depth chart, CTB played him out of position at the 4 slot, which highlights both the real issue of roster compression when you play both of your PGs 35+ minutes per game (a discussion for another post), but also how much it does seem he wanted to get Murray on the floor. Murry didn’t look comfortable in this game, though. His first play was an illegal screen from the high post and then here’s an example of one of his few defensive possessions:

Contrast this off the ball defense with Kody’s clip. Kody maintains better vision of both the ball and his man, gives himself more space to help, and then reacts on the drive. Taine remains a close distance to his man even as the dribbler takes a controlled drive into the lane, comes to a jump stop, and then shoots. How often do you remember classic UVa defenses allow such free reign of the lane from a driving guard without help side defense reacting? Furthermore, despite staying with his assignment, he still loses track of his man and concedes rebounding position if the shot wasn’t made. The next defensive possession down the court didn’t come his way, but he continued to look tentative and to stay far too close to his man in off the ball defense… and he came out of the game for the rest of the way after that.

McCorkle, on the other hand, came into the game for just the last minute of the first half, and this was his defensive possession:

He loses his man, gets caught on a screen, and gives up an easy uncontested layup. McCorkle played the remainder of the half but did not return to the game.

Where To Go From Here?

I imagine this was an immediate conundrum for CTB with such a tough loss to start the season. As we all know, that game was repeatedly brought up as a resume ding at the end of the year and Stattmann gave them their most bench minutes at 17. Igor was apparently not yet ready to see court time outside of decided game situations, as he had spent the least amount of time with the squad. Murray and McCorkle’s initial run looked out of sorts.

One right-the-ship game later, CTB decided to give both McCorkle and Murray more run. This is exactly what fans were discussing later in the season, he tried it early. McCorkle was first off of the bench against Houston (of the guards), already down 3-14 when he entered the game. He looked the part of someone who had been thrown into the fire against one of the best teams in the country:

Don’t let the result of the shot fool you. McCorkle tracks his man on a cut through the lane and does a better job of switching off of his man to cover help side when Shedrick doubles the post. The problem is, he completely loses track of where his man ends up. He relaxes for a minute, realizes the play is still ongoing, and you can see that “oh no!” moment as he realizes that he can’t locate his original man. The result is a wide open Taze Moore, and one of the few three pointers the Cougars missed on the day. A rare complete defensive breakdown for a CTB program. This was the very next defensive possession:

He simply relaxes in transition defense and allows his man to create too much of a buffer and can’t cover the ground before giving up the three pointer. Earlier in the game, he had also given up another three on a poor contest and been blown by on a drive that resulted in a wide open kick out. Now, there was a non-competitive game against Radford sandwiched in the middle of these games, but on basically almost all of McCorkle’s defensive possessions in his first two competitive games, he conceded easy offense. You could probably justify it at this point if CTB decided he wasn’t ready yet and sat him for most of the rest of the year… but he didn’t do that. He came back to him on many occasions, trying to work him in in short spurts. More on this later, but I would absolutely contest any notion that CTB didn’t give opportunity to McCorkle.

Meanwhile, Kody comes in right after this and hits an open three on a broken play and plays solid, unnoteworthy defense for a few minutes (which was a considerable improvement from how easily Houston had been scoring prior to that). Then, Taine takes the floor and we get this defensive possession from both of them:

Now Taine is still playing the 4, but with Kody on the court it’s kind of a hybrid 3/4 role. Immediately we see that his comfort and grasp of the defense have improved since the Navy game. His mistakes are more physical on this possession but they’re of smaller impact and he seems to better grasp the defensive flow. Firstly, he over pursues on the hedge of the pick, nearly tripping over Kihei while his man slips the screen. Stattmann, immediately recognizes this and leaves his man to cover Murray’s until he recovers (great example of the positive defensive contributions of Kody). Then, Stattmann transitions the player back to Taine and reduces the space to his original cover (Shedrick doing a nice job with his length taking away a pass to both his man and Stattmann’s). The ball flows back to the top of the three point line and Taine adjusts into a much better help position than we saw earlier. As Shedrick defends a pick and roll with Beekman, his man dives into the lane and Murray is right there in perfect position both to deny that pass from the wing and to recover if Houston tries a skip pass to his man. The ball with Clark’s man, now, Houston attempts another pick and roll with Shedrick’s cover and Stattmann replicates Taine’s help side defense in almost a mirror image, defending the dive while being in position to return to his own man. Finally, after a dribble handoff causes Kihei to switch to Sasser, Taine’s man shows to ball screen. Taine shows in good position to hedge, but Sasser denies the screen, crosses over, and elevates over Kihei for the late shot clock three pointer. Great offense by a great player, but well defended by both Murray and Stattmann (and Shedrick) over a full 30 second possession. This was progress! A good sign that while Murray might still be struggling with the speed and change of direction of the game, his comfort in the Pack Line was starting to improve. In comparison to Kody, though, he still had a long way to go. At this point for CTB, Stattmann was the continued easy decision for minutes in an attempt to regain momentum within the season. At this point, McCorkle was temporarily out of the question, and Murray not yet ready for significant time.

Meet Igor

With Stattmann locked in, CTB was still looking for an 8th man off the bench and he turned to Igor Milicic Jr. for the next short run of games. He debuted early against Coppin St., and man did he. Milicic made his first two shots, one a three and one a mid range jumper, look effortless and fluid. He was big, lengthy, handled the ball and while I don’t put much stock in film against buy-style non-competitive games, this is something the others in this conversation weren’t showing:

That’s a 6’10” player switching to the primary ball handler at the end of a half, easily staying in front of him, inhaling the shot block, leading to transition points. He was electric this game and created a buzz. And this was not lost on CTB – who gave him 10 minutes in the Legends Classic the following game against Georgia. In this game, Milicic played pretty well, hit a three, logged some decent defensive minutes, was regularly in position. You could argue he was a little soft at times, like conceding too much ground to a driver so that his contest wasn’t as effective:

There he allowed the spin move to improve his man’s angle to the hoop and didn’t push back enough to make the positioning difficult enough for the finish. Still, to my eye, these mistakes were less extreme than those we were seeing from McCorkle and Murray and required his opponent to make tougher plays.

Against Providence, his playing time was slashed from 10 to 3 minutes, despite CTB getting him into the game within the first 10 minutes of the game. I couldn’t really find a clear indication as to why. Maybe it’s because the rest of the team was playing so well defensively, one of the best collective defensive performances of the season. Here’s one play where he should have left his man to stop this drive but reacted too late because he lost sight of the ball:

But, despite the fewer minutes of PT against Providence, he still seemed in favor, getting the most 8th man minutes against Lehigh, with McCorkle actually starting to see a little more run again after hitting a big shot in the Georgia game (but still being slow on several defensive rotations).

Then, the Iowa game happened.

The Iowa Game

If the initial run of ACC play later in the year was a watershed moment that CTB was going to mostly just cut his rotation to 7 and run Stattmann until he absolutely had to play Poindexter as an 8th, the Iowa game was probably the most influential in terms of how the roster was viewed prior to that point. Despite all signs pointing to Milicic being in favor as the 8th man at the time with McCorkle starting to see a little run again, Taine Murray was first off the bench in that role against the then 16th ranked Hawkeyes and played 21 minutes, which was the largest single game any of the 3 Ms received all year. Everyone remembers his shooting from this game which almost won the game for UVa and capped an incredible come back. It made a name for him among fans. To this day, if you were to ask most UVa fans which of the 3 Ms they have the most hope for developing into a key contributor, most would probably say Taine Murray as a result of this game. It was also a unique game in that it was the only one where CTB stuck with one of the Ms and didn’t pull them out for a sustained chunk of PT (over half the game). Taine hit two threes early but didn’t catch fire until the very end… but CTB still stuck with him early on. Perhaps it was situational because of the 21 point defecit that had developed and an offensive spark was needed. But masked by the great shooting were still glaring defensive struggles and for many of the positive plays later on, there had been a trade off:

Now, in Taine’s defense, he should never have been put in a position where he was in one-on-one post defense with a first team All American Power Forward, but they were targeting and isolating him. The last clip was a mental error to an extent because he was over-helping on a drive that Reece had decently defended and couldn’t recover to his man on time to contest the three well – but unlike earlier in the season, these were primarily issues of physical limitation rather than issues with the scheme. And it wasn’t just Keegan or Kris Murray:

There are more clips as well that resulted in fouls or buckets in other ways. Iowa was intentionally targeting him on defense across the board to the point where the commentators were discussing it prior to his three point shooting catching fire, pointing out that the Hawkeyes were “picking on” Murray with whoever he was guarding.

Igor got some time in this one as well and this was an example of a defensive possession with him on the floor:

Iowa mostly avoided him and ran offense through other channels, he executed the post double and recovered quickly out of it, and was in position to grab the rebound after the shot came.

Interestingly, this was a rare game where Kody didn’t get much run (he wouldn’t over the next few), especially in the second half. During a good portion of the comeback, CTB had both Taine and Igor on the floor stuck both in both corners and then let Kihei and Reece run the pick and roll with Shedrick in an open middle with Murray and Milicic there for kick outs. It was an NBA-style look that was exciting to see and was effective.

Heading Into Conference Play

Anyone who ever tells you that CTB only values defense over offense is missing some nuance. He wants players who can defend and run his system, but he will also play great offense if he thinks it’s a net positive for the team. Kyle Guy was a great example of this as his defensive metrics were always among the worst on his teams but his offensive prowess and knowledge of the defense (and perfect fit within the offensive system) were incredibly valuable to the team. Guy got solid minutes in his Freshman season and then was a locked in starter for the next two years. Similarly, Taine’s late game heroics and much needed three point shooting earned him more playing time over the next several games. It was the longest and really only time one of the Ms saw sustained run in that 7th man slot, supplanting Kody. Taine played 16 minutes against Pittsburgh (to Kody’s 7 and Igor’s 6) and 12 minutes vs. JMU (to Kody’s 5 and Igor’s 3). McCorkle actually returned to main action during the JMU game, logging 6 minutes of his own… but this was the game (along with the Clemson game, two games later) that, in my opinion, locked Kody into that 7th man role for the rest of the season. Confusingly, Milicic was once again phased back out of a key role despite contributing well in the come back vs. Iowa.

I want to make note of the JMU game specifically because not only was it another resume killing loss, real time I noticed McCorkle – both because he hadn’t been playing much while Taine had, and because he entered the game at the under 12 time out with the team up 10-2 (yes, the team had held JMU to 2 points over 8 game minutes) and he left 4 minutes later with the team down 11-13. His defense alerted me here and here:

He was struggling to keep his man in front. On the first play, rocked back because he was so concerned about the drive that he got lost under the screen and gave up a three, and then beaten off the dribble again and forced to foul shortly thereafter. But what I failed to notice live because it wasn’t always resulting in points, was that Murray’s defense was also struggling. Here:

He was just completely blown by when his man got a running start, but the shots were missed. Here:

This play appears to be more of a Caffaro recovery issue, but the real cause of the open look is that Taine gets beat badly by his man’s first step such that Caffaro has to leave his man entirely to stop the drive. Rather than sensing this and retreating to Caffaro’s man, Taine recovers back to take his own, forcing Caffaro then to retreat to his, but too much time and space had been created. Then later:

The pick didn’t even play a huge role here, it was more just the sharp cut and foot speed that created the separation.

Now Kody only played 5 minutes in this game and it was a disappointing loss… and when he did, he was turning out defensive possessions like this one:

It’s a much different picture. At the beginning of the possession his man tries the blow by baseline but he was quick enough to cut it off. Then, throughout the possession he stayed in good position such that he was able to eventually help off to distract Kihei’s man at the end of the shot clock and then get back out with a good contest on his own as the shot clock ended.

It didn’t help that Murray was 0-4 from three this game or that McCorkle was 0-2, but I’m sure it was the defensive disparity showcased above that eventually brought Kody back into the picture.

Not, however, before CTB was willing to give Igor another 10 minute look vs. Clemson. Of all of the times Milicic started to get some extended run and then fell back out of favor, this game is the one where the reasoning was very visible on the court. In like a minute and thirty second window of time, Clemson went at Igor three different times and scored every time:

Obviously a concerning look, and one that drew attention online… but of those three plays, really only the second one was a glaring issue as he let his man catch the ball too easily too deep and then let him get into his body when going up. The other two were just good shots hit fading away, off of the dribble, with a contest. The truth is, Clemson was hitting these shots all night. Several against the starters, Caffaro, Shedrick, here’s one against Kody:

Here’s one of Taine once again illustrating the huge pain point of playing him at the 4 as he was just over matched size-wise in ways that Igor and Kody weren’t:

The Clemson game, especially the second half, left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouths and was a catalyst for limiting the roster experimentation. Stattmann’s unspectacular but general solid play and experience was given priority. Murray played double digit minutes the next two games against Syracuse and Clemson but eventually was, more or less, phased out. The rotation tightened to a fairly constricted 7 man line up… and the team started stringing together some wins. But even after all of this, some costly losses, some very poor defense by the program’s standards, CTB continued to give the 3 Ms sporadic opportunities to show. Taine played a bit with the starters toward the end of the game against NC State and this happened:

McCorkle got a little run against Miami and this and this happened:

But Igor got a chance to play against Wake Forest for much of the first half of that game and if I could draw a neon sign to any one specific clip, it would be THIS ONE! So here’s the scenario: with about 10:20 left in the first half we’re down 11-8. Clark gets two fouls and has to sit and we roll out a line up of Beekman, Franklin, Stattman, Milicic, and Caffaro. About 6 minutes later of game time, we’ve gone on a 14-5 run and lead 22-16. I’ve shared the entire run. Look at how huge we look as a team vs. Wake. Look at how physically dominant our guards are over theirs and how effective Franklin is making plays for both himself and others with the ball off the bounce against smaller defenders. Look at how Stattmann, Milicic and Caffaro take up space, bother passing lanes, get deflections, impact the glass. Look at how Milicic, Stattmann and Franklin can space the floor and threaten the three (Franklin hits 2, Kody hits 2) and how that gives Caffaro space to work offensively inside. It’s a unique stretch of time because it’s one of the only extended stretches all year against strong competition with the game undecided, that neither Clark nor Gardner were on the floor:

I really feel like this lineup could have been the solution to a lot of problems this year. It offered size and shooting and defense. It also gives me hope that we could see something similar next year, with Beekman, Franklin, Igor, Isaac Traudt and Shedrick/Caffaro. That line up would carry even more size and would hypothetically have even better shooting.

At the 4:20 mark Gardner comes in for Igor. At around the 2:00 minute mark Igor returns to the same lineup with Shedrick in for Caffaro. The game has been tied at 25 all, Wake has gone on a 9-3 run with Milicic on the bench in about 2:20 of game time. As the half ends, UVa is back up 29-27. This capped an 18-7 run over a span of 8-9 non-consecutive minutes of game time for Igor. And yet, he didn’t see a minute in the second half and they lost the game… and he didn’t see another meaningful minute for the rest of the season!

So herein lies my confusion around Igor Milicic Jr. Whenever Murray or McCorkle would get an opportunity on the court, it would result in defensive leaks. Even when Murray was lighting it up against Iowa, which earned him increased run for several games thereafter, he was conceding a lot on the defensive side of the ball (and was playing out of position). Igor passed the eye test in that his size clearly impacted the game and his offensive skillset was fluid and consistent. He passed the results test in that he had some flash moments but was also part of several high level stretches of team play throughout the season (Wake, Iowa come back). Did the metrics back up what the eyes were seeing? I didn’t mention his metrics at the beginning, not wanting them to shape the case, but they absolutely did. Igor’s metrics popped as much as the eyeball test did. His Offensive Box Plus/Minus was actually the very best on the team at 3.7, just ahead of Gardner’s 3.5. For reference, Beekman was 3rd at 2.3 and Clark was 4th at 1.4. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus was third on the team at 2.8 (behind Beekman’s 5.2 and Shedrick’s 4.6, ahead of Franklin and Stattmann’s 1.1). His total BP/M was 6.4, second on the team between Beekman’s 7.5 and Shedrick’s 5.6.

The response to these statistics is often that the sample size was smaller and he didn’t play as much against ACC competition as the starters, which is true. But he DID play against ACC competition, he did play against Iowa, and he did play well in those games. It was clear from the Coppin St. game on that CTB was including him in cycles trying to see if he could earn playing time. So what happened? You would think that this would merit increasing the sample size. Through all of the video I’ve watched, which is all of the games live and most of them again multiple times, the team seemed to elevate its play when he was in. Statistics backed up the eyeball test. There MUST have been something more to the story throughout the season behind the scenes, which I speculate was hinted at in CTB’s comments on Tuesday.

In Conclusion

If you’ve gotten this far, good on you. I find this stuff enthralling so I have a feeling brevity won’t often be my strength, nor is it intended to be. My two main take aways from all of this are, one: that the game film and statistics are so different from Milicic than they are from Murray and McCorkle. Milicic didn’t always have the firmest grasp of the defense and didn’t always play the most physically, but he rarely looked lost and his size and length jumped out as bothering opponents, especially when he got to play the 3 and 4. Murray and McCorkle often got lost within the defense and, when they weren’t, were more often than not overwhelmed by the athleticism and size of those they were defending. Despite the game against Iowa where Taine was straight fire on offense, Igor’s offensive numbers were better in the aggregate as well, significantly so when considering advanced metrics. And yet both McCorkle and Murray got more meaningful run later in the year than Igor did. Murray got over a full game more of PT over the duration of the season – and even saw time in the post season.

Secondly, despite the perplexing nature of Igor’s situation, playing Kody Stattmann the amount of time that he got was absolutely the correct decision. He didn’t wow, but he was solid. He could hit a three, he could finish the occasional drive and/or leaner but, most importantly, he knew the defense and played within it pretty well. His 1.1 Defensive BP/M was tied for 4th best on the team with Franklin, behind only Beekman, Shedrick and Igor and ahead of Clark and Gardner… well ahead of Murray and McCorkle. His offensive efficiency rating was ALSO ahead of Murray and well ahead of McCorkle. This was not a situation where CTB failed to give CMC and Murray chances and their offense was more valuable than what Stattmann was offering. Stattmann’s offense was actually more valuable and, in the post season, he gave us defensive possessions like this:

Bothering the offensive player in the post, deflecting the cross-court pass to Clark’s man out of bounds, and then playing good on-ball defense with a strong contest. And this:

Switching off to guard Beekman’s man on-ball, staying with him on the drive, bothering his shot with a good contest, and grabbing the rebound.

While we were getting this from Taine:

I don’t write any of this to drag anyone. It’s an assessment of where things stand and, honestly, it’s an examination as to preconceived notions as well. Speaking for myself, I watched every single game this season and while I had caught the issues that were keeping McCorkle off of the floor, I hadn’t caught the extent of the defensive issues with Taine and was also clamoring for fewer Stattmann minutes.

With the incoming, loaded, recruiting class and the ever volatile transfer market, CTB’s comments are telling and prescient. Sometimes transfers are more beneficial for one side than the other, but sometimes they are mutually beneficial where the player is able to thrive in a slightly less challenging environment and the team is able to address unmet needs. Recently, Jared Reuter and Marco Anthony come to mind. Neither were likely going to see much playing time but both ended up having fantastic runs with GMU and Utah State, respectively.

Whatever happens over the next few days, weeks, months, I will be rooting hard for whatever kept Igor Milicic Jr. off the court this year to get some positive resolution as I think he can provide significant contributions to the program in the future if he and CTB can find a way to see eye to eye.

Big appreciation and thanks to all of the players I’ve mentioned here for their contributions to the team this year, commitment, passion, blood, sweat, and tears regardless of how it ended up – rooting for all of them to thrive one way or another. GO HOOS!

8 responses to “Making Sense of the Virginia Bench (2021-2022)”

  1. Great analysis. Answered the questions as to why CTB was playing who he was playing. Here’s to an improved 2022!

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  2. Great analysis. I also hope Milicic will be back next year and able to contribute meaningfully to the team. I really like his size and fluidity,

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  3. Loved this analysis. Answered several of my questions about our skinny rotation this year. Part of it was forced by relative team inexperience, particularly from within our system. I hope Milicic sticks at UVA as his size and offensive skills can really make a difference. I love CTB, and his candor about what needs to happen for the team to get much better was a bit unexpected but necessary to set the expectations for next year.

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  4. Tremendous job all around – and so telling. Thank you for putting this much time and effort into the analysis while, at the same time, not devaluing any of the players and supporting the team as a whole. I appreciate your insights on Stattman in particularly. My wife and I both were saying (going back to the last 14 or 15 games of the season) – “Why isn’t Stattman playing more?” There were so many times where our ‘Hoos were able to preserve or extend leads (with perhaps only 2 games) when Stattman played extended minutes. And, we’re hoping he’ll return next year as we might need minutes from him again at the 3 (or occasionally) 4 positions. Awesome job and again thank you!!

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