Five takeaways from UVA Basketball’s trip to Italy

Following the Virginia Cavaliers’ 3-1 showing in Italy during their 1-day trip, there’s plenty to assess about the Wahoos’ performances and what they mean for the team heading into the fall. Off of first hand reports from the games, game footage, and released stats, we’ve put together our five takeaways from UVA’s trip abroad.

Kadin Shedrick primed for breakout year

Undoubtedly the MVP of the four games Virginia played in Italy, Kadin Shedrick is performing at levels that suggest a breakout third year is coming for the North Carolina native. In three contests, Shedrick averaged 14.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and one block per game. Most notably, his 19 points, 12 rebounds, two block performance against KK Mega in the game the ‘Hoos lost by 19 was a particular bright spot in an otherwise rough outing for the Wahoos.

What plagued Shedrick last season was a lack of consistency, both in terms of early foul trouble and a tendency to either be at the forefront of the action or to disappear. Going off these three games in Italy, he seems to have taken a few steps in the right direction.

While where he’s best on offense will be in pick-and-rolls and as a finisher on the interior, the rising junior’s added emphasis on improving his jump shot this offseason is something to watch. He hit a few midrange shots in those three games and highlighted that as what he’s worked on most since March. Were he to establish a consistent two-point jumper, Shedrick could reasonably provide additional spacing for the Wahoo guards to drive the lane while also providing him the option to pop ball screens rather than always rolling.

Defensively, it appears that Shedrick largely managed to stay out of foul trouble in Italy and was able to play the vital role of rim protector in Tony Bennett’s defense. Granted, the 24-second shot clock meant that possessions were shorter and therefore the grind of one defensive possession and likelihood of a dumb foul lessened.

Nevertheless, Shedrick seems to be the UVA player most on the rise heading into the fall. If he were to emerge as a legitimate, consistent force on either end of the floor that would raise UVA’s ceiling considerably.

The 2022s are as expected

Perhaps the most imaginative part of the four games played in Italy was how the UVA’s new freshman class would perform. And, after those four contests, the report on each of the four freshmen is the same it was going in.

Isaac McKneely

For a few different reasons, Isaac McKneely looks like the most likely of his class to immediately fit into the rotation come November. Likely the least turnover prone and most comfortable playing in the defense after playing the Packline in high school, McKneely also provides perimeter shooting that the ‘Hoos are desperately going to need this season.

In fact, he put that proficiency on display in the Wahoos’ upset win against KK Mega in the trip finale, shooting 3-5 from deep including a long ball late in the game. The former Poca High School Poca Dot (awesome, right?!) finished with 15 points in that game as his contributions are arguably what pushed UVA over the top in its double-OT win.

Isaac Traudt

Meanwhile, his fellow Isaac also showed flashes of real potential as a scoring big. Traudt averaged 11.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.3 STL per game in Italy including a 19-point outing in game two of the trip. While the depth in the front court may mean that Traudt has less of a shot at early playing time, he provides a bit of a hybrid between the smaller, more talented forwards in Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas and the pure centers in Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro.

The number of steals he had was particularly interesting. Without full game footage it’s hard to evaluate exactly what he was doing defensively. But if the Nebraska native can handle himself on that side of the ball, that would make the playing time he does earn more consistent.

With a lights out three ball and playmaking abilities, Traudt will definitely have his moments as a freshman and could very well prove the difference in a few UVA wins.

Ryan Dunn

As for Ryan Dunn and Leon Bond III, each seems still a bit of polish away from being a contributor for Tony Bennett. Each had their moments, though.

Dunn’s nine points and seven rebounds in game one highlighted his potential as a scorer. Though his shooting seems to need work as does his defensive mentality. He can be a bit over-aggressive in trying to take the ball away from his opponent.

Granted, he’s got absurd athleticism. Now listed at 6’8” with the skills of a guard, he’s got perhaps the highest ceiling among the 2022 group. One dunk he had — which has not been published anywhere as of yet — was an absolute poster through a hard contest.

Dunn still also needs to work on his handles and decision-making with the ball in his hands. But the framework is there for him to grow into another in a long line of skilled wings under Bennett.

Leon Bond III

As for Bond III, the 6’5” forward absolutely has a part to play later on in his career in Charlottesville. His nose for rebounds, skill as a slasher to the basketball, smooth midrange jumper, and then his length and footwork defensively all make him a player who can work well in a Swiss army knife role.

In fact his performances in the first and second game abroad highlighted his stat-sheet-stuffing ability. Against Stella Azzurra, Bond scored 10 points, grabbed four boards, and blocked two shots. Then, versus Orange1 Basket, he scored one basketball, but still corralled eight rebounds and nabbed three steals. And, in one play against KK Mega, he hits a pretty pull-up jumper off a pin-down screen.

That said, he also is a bit away from being ready for primetime. He lacks some of the strength to play the four at 6’5” and is still raw offensively. In the case of injury or extreme foul trouble, he could fill minutes as a defensive hound even on the perimeter. But, with a redshirt the plan from back when he committed, Bond’s time should come further down the line.

The front court is stacked

Now that these ‘Hoos have played four games together, the depth in the front court is even more notable. With Jayden Gardner and Shedrick penciled in as the starters, Ben Vander Plas and Francisco Caffaro are essentially a second line right behind those two with Traudt and Bond III also as available depth.

This was part of why UVA was so able to sit three guys per game. With four experienced guys and then two young guns ready to fill in, there was rarely a moment of concern regarding

It’s an interesting situation for a variety of reasons. Gardner was UVA’s most productive offensive weapon last season and, alongside Shedrick, could prove to be a pretty solid starting front court. But, Vander Plas brings plenty to the table as well as a better shooter and playmaker than Gardner while Caffaro can also contribute significantly, particularly on the offensive boards and in the low post. Then the aforementioned Traudt also should push for playing time, leaving a number of decisions for Tony Bennett to make.

Probably the most likely guy to lose out on minutes would be Caffaro. While he’s only improved over his time in Charlottesville and had an underrated breakout season last year, Shedrick’s likely rise and Bennett’s love for small ball lineups could result in the Argentinian playing fewer minutes than in the past. If Shedrick is as expected this year, he should fill the majority of the center minutes while the more versatile offensive weapons in Gardner, Vander Plas, and Traudt provide options for when Bennett and company want to spread the floor one through five.

UVA has far more lineup versatility than last season

As a result of that added depth in the front court and how the 2022 class has replenished the team’s depth, the ‘Hoos also have plenty more versatility among their lineups heading into the 2022-2023 season. In particular, Bennett has had significant success with smaller lineups that can switch defensively and are able to spread the floor with bigs slipping out to the perimeter especially in the sides offense.

That’s what UVA will hope that Vander Plas’ arrival and Gardner’s continued development can provide. A lineup with those two at the four and five could be something fun to watch offensively and — if Vander Plas is mobile enough to not get exposed while guarding on the perimeter — could add some flexibility on defense. That pairing would lack rim protection — something that Bennett holds in high regard — but would ideally make up for it on the other end. In this sense Vander Plas in particular is an upgrade from Kody Stattmann — who was UVA’s typical small ball four last year — which should hold true.

Traudt could also fit in with one of those guys for a slightly bigger small ball group. Guarding on the perimeter is probably a no-no for him, but gives more of a traditional small five skill set on offense than the other two.

Of course, UVA could also roll out various jumbo lineups with the team’s options down low. Last year there were times that the staff played Caffaro and Shedrick together and they haven’t been afraid in the past to play front courts of Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, and Jay Huff or Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, and Huff. Granted, those lineups were more forced on the staff out of necessity than otherwise.

But, still, playing two guards with Vander Plas, Gardner, and Shedrick, per se, could be a winning combination. In Italy, the Ohio transfer was spending time playing as a three and as a mover in the sides offense so that could be where he plays a bulk of his minutes considering that UVA’s guards are overall less established than the front court is.

Lineup construction will absolutely be something to watch for Virginia this season and the additional versatility should give the ‘Hoos a better chance against a variety of opponents as they can both match other teams depending on how their opponents line up and even force teams to adapt to them.

Kihei is still clutch

Listen, Kihei Clark’s return for a fifth season is all kinds of messy when evaluating how his decision impacts the team and program moving forward. Yet, what can’t be denied is Clark’s charm for big moments.

His team-leading 23 points in Virginia’s 94-87 win over KK Mega Basket was proof of that as was his performance in the five-minute double overtime period when he scored 10 and pulled the ‘Hoos away from the Serbian squad for a redemptive win . Especially when taking into account how he did so while playing alongside UVA’s four freshmen, such a showing just underscores the Woodland Hills native’s experience and success when the lights are brightest. He’s a leader and knows how to win games when it counts.

It’s to be determined what role Clark has on this 2022-2023 roster. But he’ll always be there when UVA needs him the most.

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