vs. North Carolina Central 11/7/2022

After each game this season I (hope) to provide one of these. You’re used to seeing recaps and analysis of what happened in the games from any number of outlets. My goal for these is going to be a little bit different. I’m going to highlight a handful of things that I liked or didn’t like from each game. It could be anything from cool in-game adjustments, player performance or utilization, specific lineups, etc. Some will be pretty quick call outs, some will be more detailed discussions or deep dives. I’ll try to limit myself to no more than 5 of each likes and dislikes, so that it’s the stuff that really stood out any individual game and won’t need to rehash the pluses and minuses of each player or each situation every game – which should also create a diversity of topics over the span of the year. Debated how to order and present these, but think that for flow, the best thing to do is just integrate both throughout as the discussion dictates. We’ll see how this evolves over the season, but for now I picture it like that Zach Lowe column only exclusively focused on each game of your favorite team. Fun! Also, apologies in advance, I won’t be editing these with the same attention as I do my other stuff in effort to get them out in a relevant amount of time. Without further ado:

Like: Early Game Rotations

Perhaps everyone’s biggest question coming into the season was how playing time would shake out. How married would CTB be to last year’s starting lineup? How much time would the new players see? Where would BVP fit in with Gardner on Preseason All-ACC lists? Would Kihei and Reece play fewer minutes together. I saw some of the chatter online and heard from some of my friends after the game some hand-wringing about how Beekman got only 26 minutes while Clark got 34, saying that those numbers should be flipped. While, generally, I agree with the sentiment, I believe this was largely game script related. Beekman got into foul trouble early and, where CTB might have forced him on the court more often with 2 fouls last year, he does not love to do that and didn’t have to this year.

If anything, I think advocates for playing the two separately should be buoyed by two main things. Firstly, Clark was the very first player off the floor after the first media time out AND first year Isaac McKneely was the first in the game. CTB looked to break up the duo early. Clark came back in for Beekman after a few minutes only after he picked up a foul – but CTB split the two up again. Then, with around nine and a half minutes left, Beekman came back in and it was again for Clark and it wasn’t until Isaac McKneely picked up a blocking foul up top about a minute later that the two touched the court at the same time again. Pretty much a full 8 minutes of game time of them not playing together, which probably rivaled most any time last year, and it was clearly by design. The team also had a 12 point lead at that point, which matched where they finished the game.

The second reason is that it finally looks as though they’ve both progressed as shooters enough so that it finally doesn’t really matter as much (at least offensively). More on this to come, but in actuality, of the three lineups that were by far and away the most efficient for us last night per https://evanmiya.com/, they were both playing in the top two, and BVP was in all of the top three which brings us to…

Jayden Gardner had a rough game. His offense didn’t show up for him in a game you’d have thought it would, and his defense wasn’t exploited but it was also not a plus. In fact, we were -1 against NCCU for the 20 minutes Gardner was in the game, and +13 for the 20 he wasn’t…. But he only played 20 minutes. Last year he averaged 32.7 minutes per game because they really couldn’t afford to take him off the floor much. Here, he’s struggling, and his minutes dropped all the way down to 20 because BVP could slide right in. The fact that CTB already seems willing to play the hot hand likely speaks to the new lens through which CTB has been talking about the depth of his team, and I think you’ll see that across the board. Reece was down almost 10 minutes from his average last year and Armaan Franklin was actually up almost 6 minutes from his average last year because he was playing so well. This “hot hand” philosophy is going to raise their floor considerably this year because when someone gets cold, CTB simply won’t HAVE to play them and, more, doesn’t appear inclined to.

Like: Reece’s Lack of Hesitancy

Alluded to this in the last point, but Reece showed off that new-found confidence from outside in this game. He only went 2/3 from outside and the sample size is small, but it’s how he looked for his shot and his willingness to let it fly. In both of his previous two season, he would often pass up open looks that the offense created for him or would take them, but after hesitation where you could tell that he was in his head about the shot. This allowed teams to sag off of him and, along with Kihei’s struggle to sometime be ABLE to get a shot off, was a big part of the concern of playing them together. Last night we saw this:

Unless it’s at the end of a shot clock, or game clock for that matter, this isn’t a Beekman we’ve yet seen. He just flowed into a three off of a screen with 10 seconds still left on the shot clock; clearly having much more confidence in his shot.

He missed this one, but in the past with that much open court he would have almost certainly driven in and tried to either finish or dish the ball off to a teammate. I like that he just saw it and took it – and very early in the shot clock on a secondary break, as well.

This is the one where I knew we were definitely dealing with a different player. This is just guiding his player into a slight rub screen and taking a step back three with 20 seconds left on the shot clock and his team only up 2 points at this point after NCCU had clawed back into the game. He didn’t just want the moment, he was happy shooting from deep in the moment. Players’ shots can heat up and cool down throughout the season, and I suspect we’ll see that from Beek this year, but it’s the mentality that’s REALLY encouraging. He didn’t fully get to show it off in this one, but you can tell he definitely feels like “that guy” now. Speaking of….

Disliked: Riverboat Gambler Reece

Reece has always had a lot of success jumping passing lanes and creating breaks the other way. He had one in a big moment in this game and deflected a few others. But it does seem like he might be pressing for those moments a little too much. Twice he ran himself entirely out of a play while trying to grab a steal, something I do not remember him doing with much regularity previously, and resulting in great opportunities for his man. Here:

And here:

The first one didn’t lead to points but did create a quality mid-range look. The second was right after he made a similar steal to push the lead back out to 4 after NCCU had taken the lead. It gave his man another quality look, which this time was taken advantage of and had the potential to be a significantly negative momentum play (which it wasn’t but perhaps against a better opponent). I’d like to see Reece play a little more soundly here, although I’m not even sure that’s generally correct as those breaks and easy points are big when they happen. Perhaps just wait to be SO aggressive until he knows he has Kadin behind him rather than Jayden or Papi. But, generally speaking, I think he does have the ability to play with more restraint without giving up these opportunities as he’s done it successfully both of the two years prior.

Disliked: Taine Murray’s Closeouts

Murray was the 9th man and saw minutes ahead of Traudt and Dunn (Bond redshirted), but was only on the floor for 2 minutes. Almost assuredly this was why:

These closeouts aren’t just bad, they’re REALLY bad. He’s close enough on both that he should be able to get much closer to bother the shot. His defensive positioning is fine, especially on the second, but he like hitches on his close out and breaks down with his hand up still several feet away from the defender. It looks like he’s so worried about the blow-by drive that he’s unwilling to close hard but just gives up uncontested threes in the process. These were incredibly visible when they happened live not just on re-watch. I say this not to pile on, but simply to point out why he likely had such a short leash. I’m sure Taine will get another opportunity down the road, but I bet Dunn will get a shot sooner as a result of this as it’s really hard to keep this kind of defense on the court.

Like: Offseason Shooting Practice with Justin Anderson!

Armaan was just scorching shooting 4 from 7 from beyond the arc and creating several additional opportunities for himself at the line. Worth showing all four of his threes because they were things of beauty.

This was his first and that eruption from the crowd told you everything you need to know about hopes for his shooting this year… but also notice how Beekman was able to draw the defender in. He had to respect his ability to shoot because he’d already made a three just a little while earlier, creating the even more wide open shot for Armaan.

This is his second and it bears stressing how much confidence he shot this with. There really wasn’t that much space there and he didn’t need much movement to create it. He just faked downward, ducked behind a Gardner screen, and let it rip through a quality contest.

Good secondary break (and good look from Kadin), again aggressively hunting his shot.

This one felt like a Kyle Guy three and was the most difficult of the bunch. It was pretty deep and he was moving away from the hoop and had to catch, square up, and fire all in the same motion. Also of note, all of these were catch and shoot threes which is encouraging to see as he has historically shot better off the bounce. Really not much more to say here. Armaan played great, led the team with 21 points and with 35 minutes as a result, and said all the right things after the game about having to be consistent game to game. But as someone who has used a lot of words to discuss the hopeful jump of Beekman and Shedrick, if Franklin can turn in regular performances like this, it will be just as impactful.

Like: Bonus Caffaro Offense

Interesting that Kadin closed the game so strongly, because the story after the first 30 minutes or so was how good Papi looked when he was on the floor, especially offensively. 10 points in 10 minutes is some significant pop off of the bench! Surely this is the kind of game that you have to take with a grain of salt as ACC competition is going to have more collective length and be more bothersome, but I really liked his activity and aggressiveness.

Taking a dribble and keeping body control from the elbow, posting up against the zone, finishing through contact after a drive and dish… he also shot free throws well! I have quite a few caveats with this one around variance, but it did seem like he had improved touch and purpose when he got the ball around the rim. Similar bull in a china shop energy this year but with far fewer broken dishes. Given that it does finally seem like the bulk of the playing time is going to go Kadin’s way rather than the 1a/1b situation we saw last year, it’s great to see that those minutes may be of more value than previously anticipated. The jury is still very much out, IMO, but this was cool to see.

Dislike: Small Ball

At least with Gardner as the 4 and BVP as the 5. We didn’t get to see it much, literally for 1 offensive possession which led to a turnover, and then this defensive possession:

That’s Clark at the point, Franklin and IMK at 2-3, Gardner at the 4 and BVP at the 5. At the time NCCU didn’t have their 7-footer on the floor so it seemed like a good time to give it a look, but we gave up an open three pointer, an offensive rebound, and then 6’8″ Daniel Oladapo posted up with multiple people around him like it was easy and drew a foul. IMMEDIATELY after the end of this possession CTB sent Caffaro back into the game and this was the only defensive possession we saw all game without either center on the floor for us. Personally, I’d still like to see what a BVP/Traudt 4 and 5 would look like (maybe on Friday with Papi playing for Argentina?), but it’s clear at this point that we’ll primarily have one of our true centers in any given lineup, especially if they’re playing this well.

Dislike: Turnovers, and Wing Denial

Give NCCU credit, they were aggressive and had active hands throughout the entire game (although it did get them in foul trouble). They trapped us a couple of times early on and forced an uncharacteristic turnover from Clark in the back court and one from McKneely as well, but the interesting piece and what might be used against us in the future is how they adjusted to defend our offense over the game. Obviously familiar with our sides offense, their game plan was to aggressively deny the pass from the point to the wing, in hopes of creating a turnover or stalling the flow of the offense. Many times, especially during the heart of their second half come back, it worked. They did this by having the man guarding the ball handler shade hard in an attempt to deflect the initiating passes:

And they also did this by having their wing defender cheat over the ball screen in an attempt to aggressively deny the pass to their man.

Here, McKneeling is actually running the point with Clark and Franklin on the wing. You can see that they get our offense all out of flow, denying multiple passes to both, aggressively so. Shedrick gets the ball for a second but Franklin’s backdoor cut is well defended (this was a good opportunity for Kadin to test that new midrange jumper!). The result was a discombobulated offense resulting in a bad shot, a Clark iso step back three attempt.

NCCU’s #21, Eric Boone actually baits this pass because he knows that Beekman wants to pass to Clark here within the flow of their offense. He jumps it (travels) and is able to find the transition bucket the other way.

Seeing that NCCU found quite a few deflections and were able to disrupt what we were doing with this, I expect other opponents to attempt to replicate down the road. We’re going to have to add some wrinkles like designed backdoor cuts with passes from the high post, faking the wing pass into blow by drives from the point, etc. Plenty of time to incorporate, but an Xs and Os development that I think could be an ongoing discussion throughout the year.

Dislike: Teams Targeting Kihei On D

It’s time to collectively hold hands as a UVa hoops fanbase and acknowledge that, at this point in his career, Kihei Clark is a MUCH better offensive player than he is a defensive one. I know that goes against the conventional talking points, but it’s very true. His offense was very good last night. He hit open and timely shots, he created and threw some pretty sick passes (bonus clip!):

He’s a calming presence with the ball and, along with Reece’s apparent progression/willingness to shoot, on an improved shooting team his offensive game has an opportunity to shine. In fact, I could see myself updating my portfolio this year and, rather than hoping to limit the time Beekman and Clark play together, hoping to limit the time Clark and Gardner play together, because the defensive issues are compounded by Jayden’s.

It’s not that Clark is a bad technical defender, he’s not. In fact, he drew two charges last night staying between his man and the hoop and managed to ward off a few other attempts by staying in front of his man when he was attempting to isolate. But the size issue really is relevant and, as we saw throughout last year, NCCU spent a good portion of their offensive design trying to initiate offense through the man Clark was guarding. #5, Justin Wright, and #21, Eric Boone, are both only 6’2″, 190-195 lbs. But they both looked huge with Kihei on them, aggressively hunted their shots when he was guarding them, and collectively went 14-22 from the floor for 38 total points. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

A little glitch in the clip here, but Clark loses track of his man when he’s in the lane and therefore has to over-commit because it’s harder for him to effectively contest the shot. The pump fake takes him entirely out of the play and allows for an easy mid-range jumper. Side note, as I’ve been scouring video from last year I’ve noticed that Kihei is not as polished tracking cutters when defending off the ball, probably because it’s not something he had to do as often when his primary responsibility was always taking the point.

This is just a straight iso play from Wright, backing Clark into the lane. It triggers Caffaro to aggressively help (also highlighting the difference between having he and Kadin on the back end) and committing the foul. With any of Beekman, McKneely, or Franklin, Papi probably doesn’t have to leave his man here.

This whole set was designed to just run Clark off of screens to generate a quality look, as it’s harder for him to make up that ground and effectively contest.

This is just pretty bad pick and roll defense. He gets separated from his man and doesn’t make much of an effort to get back into the play, mostly trails and watches. Fortunately, Kadin is there to impact the shot and Armaan is in fantastic position (his man is all the way in the corner) to box out the initial screener and grab the board. Really phenomenal D by Kadin and Armaan, very poor D by Clark.

Our wing defenders were shading like this all night to force the drive toward the baseline rather than to the middle, but this is just too easy. No resistance and no ability to impact the shot.

This was an illegal screen, firstly (Clark’s tough, man). That being said, the offense was clearly to muddy up/put a body on Clark in the lane so that he has to recover and contest which isn’t his strength.

Trying to stop a 2 on 1 isn’t ever easy, but defenders in that situation have to either try to force the pass or deny that and contest the shot. This kind of contest just doesn’t bother Boone at all. Just not much resistance.

This was the shot that gave NCCU the lead and capped them erasing a double-digit deficit, much of that come back run was with them searching out and testing KC as their initial thought, basically almost every possession. This drive gave me flashbacks of the St. Bonaventure game last year where a sure ball handler with size and length was just kind of building up a head of steam and putting Clark on his hip, creating a pretty easy shot in the driving lane. Notice, it’s Caffaro and not Shedrick on the back end here as well.

I want to contrast this with what I think is going to be our best defensive lineup (regularly utilized) on the last possession of the game (still working so hard!). Beekman, McKneely, Franklin, BVP, and Shedrick D up below.

There’s nowhere to go, no one to test. Everywhere there is length and you see multiple time they’re able to bother the ball handler/deflect the dribble, ending in what would have been a BVP steal if not for the baseline turnover forced by a Beekman/Franklin deflection and good McKneely defense. This five had that more suffocating vibe that we’re used to seeing. Bonus clip if McKneely’s size/athleticism having an impact on defense:

This one was easy to miss live because they were zoomed in on Tony when the play started, but BVP’s man beats him on a cut toward the hoop. That’s 6’8″ Kris Monroe who Isaac McKneely, defending the inbounder, contests at the rim and forces the miss. That’s some pretty crazy defensive reach he brings as a shooting guard.

Anyway, I want to show that it is a very real problem that we have to figure out, but my solution isn’t “don’t play Kihei” because, it bears repeating, despite all of the above, he was still a part of most of our most effective lineups. In fact, we played at the slowest pace in the country on Monday and still scored 73 points – certainly helped by his facilitation. But I do think that trying to separate he and Gardner as much as possible, and trying to pair him with Shedrick as much as possible will go a long way toward improving our defense.

Like: Beast Mode Shedrick

When I was watching the game I was disappointed in Kadin’s impact for the first 3/4ths of it. In retrospect, I think that was mostly due to the impact that Caffaro was having on the offensive in by contrast. Kadin was still altering shots on the defensive end, was rebounding well, etc. He was playing more passively, however, that I would have wanted to see in a game like this. NCCU had 7’0″ Brenden Medley-Bacon (#35), so it was a relevant test and not just like he was playing against a wildly under-sized opponent. But then, with about 9 minutes to go in the game, we started witnessing something magical. Shedrick seemed to be everywhere, grabbing difficult boards:

Keeping possessions alive by being active with his length:

And, good gravy, flexing his new and improved strength:

Eye-popping. And the kind of play it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine someone like Bacot doing to him last year.

He also escalated the rim protection:

And put an exclamation point on the game:

Ideally, he’ll be able to harness this intensity over a longer span and won’t be as passive early but, on re-watch, he was still playing solid defensive basketball throughout, and his strength was on display when boxing out. But, when he’s playing like that, he’ll be the best player on the floor in most games against most opponents – and that’s even without displaying many strides offensively yet.

Alright! Monmouth on Friday at 9:00p.m. again. Go Hoos!

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