April 11, 2014

Can Virginia Mimic UConn?

Here's a quick breakdown of the key pieces and parts of the Connecticut team that won the national championship Monday night.

Shabazz Napier -- 2010, 4-star point guard, #25 PG, #98 nationally

Ryan Boatright -- 2011, 4-star point guard, #9 PG, #42 nationally

DeAndre Daniels -- 2011, 5-star small forward, #3 SF, #10 nationally

Niels Giffey (international recruit) -- 2010, 0-star small forward, not ranked

Phillip Nolan -- 2012, 3-star center, #21 C, #118 nationally

Lasan Kromah (transfer from George Washington) -- 2009, 0-star shooting guard, not ranked

Amida Brimah (international recruit) -- 2013, 3-star center, not ranked

Terrence Samuel -- 2013, 3-star shooting guard, #29 SG, #118 nationally

Now let's take a quick look at the Virginia roster for the 2014-15 season, as it stands today (not accounting for any additional attrition / late recruits / transfers in or out).

Malcolm Brogdon -- 2011, 4-star shooting guard, #27 SG, #104 nationally

Anthony Gill (transfer from South Carolina) -- 3-star power forward, #29 PF, #144 nationally

London Perrantes -- 2013, 3-star point guard, not ranked

Justin Anderson -- 2012, 4-star small forward, #9 SF, #35 nationally

Mike Tobey -- 2012, 4-star center, #18 C, #76 nationally

Evan Nolte -- 2012, 4-star small forward, #18 SF, #91 nationally

Darion Atkins -- 2011, 3-star power forward, not ranked

Devon Hall -- 2013, 3-star point guard, #28 PG, #122 nationally

B.J. Stith -- 2014, 4-star shooting guard, unranked at his position, #48 nationally

Isaiah Wilkins -- 2014, 3-star power forward, unranked at his position, #107 nationally

Jack Salt (international recruit) -- 2014, 0-star center, unranked

So what does this tell us?

#1 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to find a transcendent star like Shabazz Napier.  A transcendent star that sticks around for all four years of his college eligibility and undergoes the associated development during his career, I should add.  Napier was a good recruit, not a great recruit... but he certainly developed into a great player.  I think we have a decent parallel in Malcolm Brogdon.  Vastly different game than Napier, but has a chance to be at UVA for five years and undergo the same sort of development and ascension to stardom Napier enjoyed.

Virginia's Shabazz?

#2 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia needs a few upperclassmen stars to align.  The Huskies' championship-winning nucleus was Napier (senior), Boatright (junior), Daniels (junior), Giffey (senior), and Kromah (5th year senior).  At Virginia, this one is easy.  The graduating class of 2016 includes Brog, Gill, Anderson, Tobey, and Nolte.  London Perrantes will be a junior when those guys are seniors.  That's a fantastic group of upperclassmen.

#3 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to cultivate a killer backcourt like Napier/Boatright/Kromah/Samuel.  Really, like Napier/Boatright.  Kromah was a pure role player.  Samuel allowed them to play three guards and really get out and press and run.  In any case, it was a truly dominant backcourt, totally feeding into the tired old cliché that "guard play rules March."  Can the Brogdon/Perrantes/Hall/Stith backcourt match what UConn just put on the floor?  No way.  Not even close.  Well... maybe a little bit close.  Our guys won't ever have the pure footspeed of the UConn guards, but their skill levels could approximate the Husky backcourt.  And while UConn runs and presses, we Packline our opponents to death.  So I think it's comparable.  However, the recruiting pedigree of the Virginia guards tracks well below that of the UConn guards.

Late 2014 recruit Devonte' Graham
could instantly elevate that pedigree, however.

#4 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to assemble a chemistry-laden 3-man group of stars.  Napier/Boatright/Daniels was that core for UConn; that trio was the engine driving the machine.  All could score, all could change games in specifically profound ways.  What does UVA have in terms of a trio of stars?  Brog/Gill/???  I think we need to see a third guy step up.  Maybe it's Justin Anderson.  Maybe it's London Perrantes.  Maybe Mike Tobey?  Heck, maybe even B.J. Stith or Devon Hall.  In any case, we need that third guy, as we don't currently have him identified.

Our terrific trio?

#5 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia needs to be able to unearth a few gems when recruiting internationally.  The Huskies found Brimah and Giffey, and those two guys were big pieces to the puzzle in Storrs.  Currently, our international man of mystery is Jack Salt.  If he's the big-balled banger the gurus are making him out to be, we might be in high cotton here.  In any case, I like that Bennett and his staff are casting a gaze overseas; it bodes well for our ability to mimic UConn's recruiting model.

#6 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia should be active on the transfer market.  Kromah's work as a one-season mercenary after graduating from GW proves that these short-term rentals can contribute greatly to big-time success.  Following that parallel, UVA [obviously] found Anthony Gill, and chased T.J. McConnell (who ended up at Arizona) and Alex Oriakhi (who ended up at Mizzou).  Currently, the staff is rumored to be in hot pursuit of potential Kansas transfer Andrew White, among others.  Bennett has been exploring the transfer market aggressively the last few years, and I don't see that trend ending anytime soon.

Andrew White could be a big-time transfer for the Hoos.

#7 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia's recruiting needs to target role playing bigs.  For some reason, the 4- and 5-star recruits at power forward and center don't always add up too success in the NCAA Tournament.  It might be better for offensive flow and team chemistry to bring in raw / underrated bigs and cultivate them into rebounders, shot blockers, and garbage scorers who know their roles and don't stray from the script and try to do too much.  This allows your guards and wings to be the stars of the team and dominate the ball on offense.  The role playing bigs, however, might be more symptom than cause --- there simply aren't very many offensively gifted big men, and they tend to go to blueblood superpowers like Kentucky, Kansas, UNC, and *vomit* Duke.  Anyway, other than Mike Tobey, Bennett has zeroed in on bigs who fit the role player / garbage man mold, which is very similar to UConn's current recruiting results.

Banger (and Mash) Jack Salt fits the 'role playing big man' mold.

#8 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to assemble at least five players in the regular rotation who can hit the 3.  Napier (87), Giffey (58), Daniels (50), Boatright (44), and Kromah (21) each made more than 20 threes during the course of the season.  The perimeter shot wasn't even a big part of their offense... but the threat of the 3-pointer was a key to opening up their attack.  So to follow the Huskies' lead, you have to recruit guys who can shoot.  Tony Bennett has always been very cognizant of this, and he always seems to be chasing after the next great shooter.  However, the recruiting results haven't always been there.  Currently, we can boast Brog, Perrantes, and Nolte as legit 3-point weapons.  Justin Anderson is working on that part of his game, as is B.J. Stith.  And who knows what Devon Hall might give us?  Anyway, Bennett's blocker/mover offensive system demands shooters to make it work, so he's recruiting shooters to the team, always has, always will.

#9 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to have a high enough baseline talent level, and then get hot at the right time.  UConn has been able to pull in guys like DeAndre Daniels, 5-star recruits.  UVA hasn't.  That has to change for us to start dreaming really big.  As for getting hot at the right time... well, that's just luck.

Meet 2016 recruit Thon Maker.
He's UVA's next good chance to land an
elite-level 5-star recruit.

#10 - To win a national championship like UConn just did, Virginia has to find some reason to play with a chip on its shoulder.  Given Tony Bennett's kind nature and squeaky-clean program, it might be hard to find the requisite amount of 'dirty' that UConn channeled during its championship run.  Where can Virginia find that grit, that edge, that chip?  Maybe from a simple lack of respect.  Whatever it is, and wherever it comes from, I think it's the magic elixir for a national championship run.  Tony might have to get creative to help his team find it.

In closing, the answers to two big questions:

Can Virginia recruit to the level of UConn?

The answer is yes.

Can Virginia mimic UConn's success?

Our next best chance will be with the senior class of 2016, with Malcolm Brogdon playing the part of Shabazz Napier.


  1. That was fun to read. Only problem is winning a national championship like UCONN did only happens once every 30 years.

    Last natty lower than a 4 seed? I believe it was Nova in 85. As much as I hate to say it we have a better chance to win it like Duke did in '10 and Maryland did in' 02. All around team effort with no real transcendent star.

    1. Good point.

      But what was the real fluke here? A 7-seed winning the national championship, or UConn underplaying its hand in the regular season to earn said 7-seed?

      I think the fact that you can even ask that question sort of undermines the miracle of a 7-seed winning it all. It's not like the Huskies are New Mexico or Oregon.

  2. I don't think they were under playing anything. This was the same team that got boat raved by 25 or something against Louisville right before the tourney. The same Louisville team that lost to the Kentucky team UCONN just beat.

    Like the football and baseball Giants and Ravens, they caught lightning in a bottle and Napier decided to hit pull up 3 after pull up 3. It happens but it's not a recipe for success.