How Virginia can best utilize Jay Huff

Given the way Virginia’s off-season has played out, with three transfers and a relatively small recruiting class coming in, the Cavaliers upcoming basketball season could depend a lot on what they get from a pair of redshirt freshmen.

We’ve already examined the intriguing potential of swingman DeAndre Hunter, but perhaps just as vital for UVa going forward is what it can get from Jay Huff.

Last season, Virginia lacked both a big man who could consistently score and outside shooting. Huff, in theory, could provide both. The Durham product is listed at 6-11, though some say he’s actually 7-foot, and has an impressively soft shooting touch for a player that size.

But the major reason he took a redshirt, and kept it on even after Austin Nichols’ UVa career lasted just one game, was the need to get stronger. He entered college rail thin and is still listed at just 215 pounds on the UVa website. It’s a safe bet he’s added some weight in the past year, and in some recent glimpses he’s shown some actual muscle definition on what’s still a skinny frame.

How Tony Bennett decides to use Huff will be interesting to see. The Cavaliers need another post presence and have a 7-footer (or very near one) on the roster. But there’s a good chance he might get pushed around in the paint. Offensively, he has the skills to play around the perimeter, but he’s also a dynamic shot blocker.

It is clear that Huff has some skills that could be mighty useful, particularly as the sport trends more toward smaller lineups and less use of traditional post-up centers. But it’s also easy to imagine there being games against big, physical teams in which Huff just isn’t ready to contribute a lot.

Huff might essentially be the inverse of Jack Salt, who started all season for the Cavaliers, but sometimes almost immediately went to the bench for long periods if the opponent’s lineup was too small and quick for the big, strong New Zealander.

Perhaps Huff will be a complete surprise. He’s had a year to develop with the strength and conditioning staff and word is he looked quite good in a recent tour of Europe with Athletes In Action. Despite the lack of bulk, he’s always played pretty aggressively on both ends of the court and brings a lot of energy and passion to the game.

If Huff is ready to contribute right away next season it could mean Virginia is ready for a bounce back year.