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Reviewing the 2023 men’s basketball offseason

The Cavaliers underwent a vast amount of changes while preparing for the 2023-24 season

<p>Neither Clark nor Shedrick will be returning to Virginia next year, as Clark exhausted his eligibility and Shedrick transferred to Texas.</p>

Neither Clark nor Shedrick will be returning to Virginia next year, as Clark exhausted his eligibility and Shedrick transferred to Texas.

Following a heartbreaking finish to the 2022-23 campaign, many Virginia men’s basketball fans wanted an impressive offseason from the Cavaliers in order to revamp their belief in the team. While there have been ups and downs, Coach Tony Bennett and company have done a serviceable job of digging themselves out of what looked like a dangerous hole. The Cavaliers added four new pieces from the transfer portal and three new high school recruits in a reloading that will keep the Cavaliers competitive for a double-bye in an improved ACC.

That hole was created by the departures of graduate student guard Kihei Clark and graduate student forwards Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas. Each member of the trio finished in the top five in scoring for Virginia, leaving questions to be answered about who would fill in the gaps. 

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, it seemed like it would likely not be junior guard Reece Beekman or senior guard Armaan Franklin to provide production. The pair announced their decisions to declare for the NBA Draft on consecutive days at the end of March, creating the possibility that Virginia’s entire starting five would be on the way out. Luckily, late Wednesday night, Beekman announced his decision to forgo his draft eligibility and return to the Cavaliers for another season, massive development and piece of stability for Virginia.

Despite the retention of Beekman, Bennett had already lost three more players aside from Franklin to the NCAA transfer portal. Senior center Francisco Caffaro announced his decision to transfer March 23, while junior forward Kadin Shedrick and freshman forward Isaac Traudt followed close behind March 27.

All three players confirmed their transfers in the following weeks, departing for Santa Clara, Texas and Creighton, respectively. Caffaro and Shedrick each played key bench roles for the Cavaliers this past season, while Traudt was expected to develop into an important piece down the road.

So, by the end of March, Virginia had lost a high percentage of its scoring and over half of its roster from 2022-23. Then began the process of rebuilding, which Bennett wasted no time doing. 

In need of major help in the frontcourt, the Cavaliers looked to the Northeast Conference and earned a transfer from Merrimack senior forward Jordan Minor April 18. The soon-to-be graduate student will bring a loaded resume from his previous stomping grounds, where the 6-foot-8 Minor was the NEC Co-Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in 2022-23.

The forward ticked his scoring, rebounding and defensive numbers up in each of his four seasons for the Warriors, culminating in 17.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season. Minor will certainly enter the starting lineup for Virginia, acting as a like-for-like replacement for Gardner in the frontcourt due to their similar natures as high-usage, undersized big men from lower leagues that Bennett has seemed to have grown fond of. 

After adding some muscle inside, Bennett retreated to the perimeter and landed a transfer commitment from St. Thomas freshman guard Andrew Rohde just two days later. Despite playing only one season in the Summit League, Rohde played himself to the conference’s Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-Summit League First Team. 

At 6-foot-6, Rohde possesses above-average height for a guard. His 17.1 points per game and 81.5 percent clip from the free-throw line will be welcomed on the offensive end, but his mark can really be made on defense where the Cavaliers will need all the help they can get inside the paint. 

Bennett will hope Rohde can improve from beyond the arc as well, as the rising sophomore’s impressive rookie campaign did include a 32 percent mark from three-point range. Virginia is losing threats from deep, meaning Rohde’s efficiency in that area will be pivotal.

The Cavaliers added a third chess piece from the transfer portal before April concluded, bringing in graduate student forward Jacob Groves out of Oklahoma. Groves is a 6-foot-9 forward who will stretch the floor nicely for Bennett’s team next season, as he posted career-high marks in three-pointers and three-point percentage while starting 22 games for the Sooners last season.

Groves’ talents will likely be utilized off the bench, where he will look to provide valuable veteran minutes for a Virginia second unit that will be heavily reshaped — and filled with youth — come November. It is also worth noting that junior guard Dante Harris, a midseason transfer from Georgetown, will come into the fold heavily for the Cavaliers. 

Following a successful dip into the transfer portal, Virginia made one last addition to its incoming recruiting class. Having already inked signatures from a pair of four-star recruits last year — center Blake Buchanan and guard Elijah Gertrude — Bennett completed his trio of rising freshmen by landing a commitment from three-star center Anthony Robinson.

Robinson, standing at a commanding 6-foot-10, attended Christ School in Arden, N.C. The center averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game while also showing off his defensive prowess with a pair of blocks per contest. While Robinson is currently set to be the tallest player on the Cavaliers’ roster for the 2023-24 season, he will have work to do to break into consistent rotational minutes.

Barring further change, the Cavaliers will see seven departures and six additions — a busy offseason for the program. Virginia also finally filled its final scholarship with the addition of freshman guard Christian Bliss, who reclassified into the 2023 class and will redshirt this season. While the Cavaliers certainly suffered some unexpected losses to the transfer portal in the offseason, the team rebuilt a roster that may not have the highest ceiling. Under the steady guidance of Bennett and considering a surprising but welcome return from Beekman, the Cavaliers should compete for a mid-level NCAA Tournament bid in 2024.


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