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Virginia men's basketball team figures to look dramatically different from last year

Virginia men's basketball team figures to look dramatically different from last year

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ACC Media Day Basketball

Virginia guard Reece Beekman smiles during Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball media day on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the locker room in Bloomington, Indiana, following last season’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Ohio, Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett found one moment to help him smile at the end of an undeniably tumultuous year.

Redshirt freshman forward Kadin Shedrick walked over to freshman guard Reece Beekman, cradled his head in his hands and told him, “We’re going to be back and we’re going to make this happen,” Bennett said Tuesday during ACC media day.

“I remember that moment,” said Bennett. “And I remember, in the moment, that was the one thing that made me feel good.”

Now, Shedrick and Beekman figure to be key pieces as UVa rebuilds itself following the loss of its top three — and six of its top eight — scorers from a team that won the ACC regular season title, had to drop out of the conference tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test, then lost to Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Everyone was down. Season’s over and we’re going home,” Shedrick recalled of his moment with Beekman. “I saw he was disappointed. I felt like Reece and I were going to be the reason why we were going to be back the next year.”

The moment didn’t just resonate with Bennett. It was important to Beekman, who hit a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer against Syracuse in the Cavaliers’ only game in the ACC Tournament and had a strong game against Ohio in the loss.

“I was hurt,” said Beekman. “Kadin coming up to me, that meant a lot, just knowing that he’s going to have my back and we’re going into next year stronger and with a chip on our shoulder.”

That chip, the players said, helped fuel offseason workouts and has them focused this preseason as they get ready for the Nov. 9 opener against Navy.

UVa figures to look dramatically different offensively from last season, when it made 212 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, the third highest total in the ACC.

Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin is a skilled perimeter shooter who hit 42.4% of his 3-point attempts last season for the Hoosiers. Senior point guard Kihei Clark has worked extensively on his outside shooting, Bennett said, a year after going 20-for-62 from beyond the arc.

But after that, Virginia’s outside shooting figures to be lacking. East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner could bring some inside scoring punch and European freshman Igor Milicic Jr. has a versatile offensive game.

Still, the offense could be limited.

That’s where Bennett is counting on his trademark Pack Line defense to carry the Cavaliers. With Clark and Beekman both aggressive on-ball defenders, and Shedrick an emerging rim protector on the defense’s backline, Bennett is hoping being stout on that end of the floor will buy Virginia time to find itself offensively.

“It’s not there yet but that’s going to become really important,” said Bennett. “Can you become so tough-minded defensively and take a step that you can hang in games or win games defensively, and then continue to figure out how can we score. It’ll have to look different because of what we lost.”

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