Okay folks, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team is heading to Charlotte to take on the Florida Gators tomorrow evening, but before then let’s take one last look back at Monday’s season opener. Whose game one performance were you most encouraged by and why?
Dan: Leon Bond
Leon Bond is the answer and there are two reasons in particular. First off, he showed that UVA now has TWO athletic freaks (Ryan Dunn being the other). The offensive identity with defined ball-handlers, shooters, and finishers increases the unit’s floor. However, if the offense becomes elite, it’s because of Dunn, and now Bond.
It is also worth noting that this is further proof that the redshirt process can be effective. Bond was able to pass that advice along to this freshman class.
John: Blake Buchanan
He didn’t exactly stuff the stats sheet, but I loved what I saw from Blake Buchanan in his first collegiate game. The defense looked great with Blake at the 5- they allowed only one bucket in his first 7 minutes on the floor. Blake looked quick, sure footed, and surprisingly capable in the Pack Line for a first year big man. He’s the only guy logging any minutes that’s above 6’10, so we’ll need him against bigger teams, starting with Florida this Friday. If he can find his niche on offense, providing some scoring from the post, then Blake should see upwards of 20 minutes a game.
Tiki: Reece Beekman
It’s Beekman. I know it’s only Tarleton State, but he dominated that game. Did whatever he wanted on both ends of the floor. This is a different team when Beekman is at full strength. He was just not the same player after the injury last year and having him back at full strength raises this team’s ceiling.
Pierce: Dante Harris
I’ll make a case for Dante Harris: With Beekman as the primary ballhandler and UVA’s most important player, the need for an adequate spell for him was a massive priority for this roster’s construction. While McKneely showed himself comfortable enough with the ball as a freshmen, I don’t think anyone around the program wanted him to slot in as UVA’s second guy in the role this season.
Luckily for the Hoos, Harris transferred in midyear last year and looks more than comfortable in the system — and extremely skilled with the ball. His 23 minutes in the opener should be the floor going forward for his usage — and we’ll see plenty of runs with him and Beekman on the floor at the same time, I’m sure. He’s lightning quick with it, as well, which adds a layer to the UVA attack that we really don’t see anywhere else on the roster. Hopefully his attacks lead to more than 1 assist in future games – but I love the skillset he brings to this roster – not to mention, he’ll be a plus defender for the team as well.
Ben: Ryan Dunn
In one sense, Ryan Dunn played a frustrating game: he picked up two early fouls in the first half (including a silly three-point shooting foul) and received limited playing time as a result, then looked visibly angry after being subbed out late in the second half after shooting just 4-8 at the free throw line.
But how can you not be encouraged by how comfortable Dunn looked as a ball-handler late in the game? He brought the ball up the court and initiated the offense late in the game for the ‘Hoos, looking more confident with the ball in his hands than anyone not named Reece Beekman or Dante Harris. Dunn also knocked down one of two good-looking catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, laid in an athletic finish at the rim, and looked athletically dominant anytime Tarleton State dared to test him in one-on-one defense.
He finished with a perfectly respectable nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal and assist in just 21 minutes of playing time. Dunn’s role will only grow over the course of the season, and he looks due for a second-year breakout as one of the ACC’s best players.
Ryan: Isaac McKneely
Tiki beat me to the punch taking Beekman, so for me it has to be Isaac McKneely. This program is historically at its best when they have a catch and shoot three point shooter and that was on full display Monday night with McKneely going 4 for 8 from three. He added four rebounds and four assists, but this team is at its most dangerous when he’s pouring in triples.
It’s not just the four threes he made, I’m excited about the eight that he took. Virginia’s ball movement was outstanding as evidenced by their 65% assist rate and they played with a flow that has been missing in recent years. With all the weapons on this team, McKneely will have plenty of open looks, so seeing him chuck it up eight times is a good sign.