IS A SOPHOMORE LEAP IN STORE FOR TAINE MURRAY? The countdown is on for the start of the 2022-2023 college basketball season. Just a couple of weeks remain until a new season of college hoops tips off. With that in mind, it’s time to preview the roster for the 2022-2023 Virginia men’s basketball team. CavaliersNow will be going through the UVA roster player-by-player in preparation for the season, which begins on Monday, November 7th against NC Central at John Paul Jones Arena.

Today, we analyze sophomore guard Taine Murray.

Taine Murray is my pick for UVA’s “wild card” entering the 2022-2023 college basketball season.

In Tony Bennett’s Virginia men’s basketball program, players who have the patience to stick around are eventually rewarded with playing time. With a full year plus a very active offseason under his belt, this upcoming season would usually be the time in which a player like Taine Murray would start to see his minutes go up.

But, this is no typical season for the Cavaliers, who returned each of their top six scorers from last season – a rare feat in today’s era of college basketball – and brought in five talented newcomers who are competing hard to earn playing time.

There was a brief time last season when it seemed Taine Murray might find himself as an integral piece of the 2021-2022 Cavaliers. After playing sparingly through the first five games of the season, Murray nearly singlehandedly led a remarkable comeback effort in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Iowa. Trailing by as many as 21 points, Virginia rallied and took the lead late before falling on a game-winning jumper from Iowa’s Joe Toussaint with just a few seconds left.

Taine Murray was the spark that ignited that comeback, as he scored a season-high 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Murray was 5/7 from the field in that game, including a 4/6 mark from beyond the arc. By that point, it had already become clear that three-point shooting would be the biggest weakness for the Cavaliers. In one game, the true freshman Murray showed that he could potentially be the solution to the problem.

Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case. The golden rule with Tony Bennett is defense and he simply didn’t see what he needed to see from Murray in practice to warrant more playing time on the floor despite Murray’s upside as a perimeter scoring threat. Murray’s 20 minutes played in the Iowa game were by far his most of the season. He played double-digit minutes in just four games the rest of the season and never scored in double figures again. His playing time especially dried up later in conference play, as Murray appeared in only four total games after the month of January, including postseason play. In his freshman season, Murray appeared in 19 games, but played just 7.7 minutes per contest and attempted less than one (0.7) shot per game. He averaged 2.0 points, 0.1 assists, and 0.9 rebounds per game and shot 34.8% from three and 39.4% from the floor.

Unlike fellow freshman Igor Milicic Jr., who played even less than Murray before entering the transfer portal and eventually ending up with former UVA assistant Ron Sanchez and the Charlotte 49ers, Murray stuck around in the hope that he’ll be able to carve out a more significant role for himself with the Cavaliers over the next few seasons.

And there is certainly some evidence to suggest that Murray could achieve that goal. An offseason with Mike Curtis in the weight room and another year in Tony Bennett’s system should have Murray more comfortable and ready on both ends of the floor, but particularly on defense. At 6’5″, he has the size and quickness to guard 1-3 and if he can shoot the ball consistently, there isn’t much reason he couldn’t earn playing time.

The one major obstacle is the current makeup of Virginia’s roster. There might just be too many players jostling for a finite number of minutes. There are only 200 minutes to go around in each game and Tony Bennett has said multiple times recently that he has up to 12 players on the roster who are capable of contributing on the floor. Between Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, and Isaac McKneely, the minutes at the guard positions are in short supply.

A busy offseason

Murray’s offseason was busier than most college basketball players. He suited up for for the New Zealand Tall Blacks for the third year in a row as they competed in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia back in July. He returned to Charlottesville just in time for UVA’s last-minute preparations for the exhibition tour to Italy. Murray was solid over the course of the three games he played in Italy, tallying six points and four assists against Orange1 Basket, followed by a 10-point, two-rebound, two-assist effort in the first game against KK Mega Basket, and then he chipped in six points in Virginia’s double-overtime win against KK Mega Basket in the final game of the tour.

Murray scored in double figures in the Blue-White Scrimmage, dropping 12 points on 3/7 shooting from the floor. He knocked down just one of his four three-point attempts, but he had a couple of nice offensive plays slashing from the wing. On one play, he drove on Ryan Dunn from the left wing and absorbed some contact before scoring a layup plus a foul. He also leaned in for a mid-range jumper from the right elbow. His other five points all came from the free throw line, where he was a perfect 5/5. Any takeaways from the intrasquad scrimmage have to be taken with a grain of salt, but UVA did have Murray initiate some offense with ball-screens, which is an encouraging sign that the Virginia coaching staff is at least experimenting with Murray having an expanded role on offense.

Sophomore leap in store for Taine Murray?

Individually, the cards are there for Murray to be a valuable player for the Cavaliers this season and deserving of extensive playing time. But considering the composition of the roster and in particular the projected pecking order of UVA’s guards, it might be more likely that Murray will only be leaned on in specific situations – as was the case last season. Taine Murray has the talent to have a sophomore leap this season, but he will have to be patient and opportunistic to take full advantage of any chances that come his way.

– SI

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