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What does UVA look like with an immediately-eligible Braxton Key?

When Virginia began pursuing Alabama transfer Braxton Key, it stood to reason Tony Bennett and his staff were looking for a replacement for De’Andre Hunter, who is likely NBA bound after next season.

But now, with Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times reporting Key has petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility, Cavaliers fans can begin to wonder what Key and Hunter might look like playing side-by-side.

Braxton Key has two years of eligibility remaining after leaving Alabama. If he plays at Virginia right away it may alter the Cavs’ long term plans a little bit, but it also enhances UVA’s national championship potential in 2019.

The former Oak Hill Academy standout broke out in a big way in his first season at Alabama, averaging 12 points per game to make the SEC’s all-freshman team, but for whatever reasons slipped a bit as a sophomore. Still, he showed enough in his time with Crimson Tide to prove he can add interior scoring for Virginia, as well as some rebounding and shot blocking.

After two consecutive seasons in which scoring in the frontcourt was hard to come by for the Cavaliers, if Key is eligible right away it provides Bennett and Co. an opportunity to play bigger lineups without sacrificing much offense. Hunter quickly developed into the type of stretch four that helped increase his pro draft stock, but he’s also quite capable of playing on the perimeter.

 

On the floor

That means Hunter could play alongside Key at the four while screen-setter extraordinaire Jack Salt continues to man the center spot. As three and four-guard lineups continue to grow in popularity the prospect of Key and Hunter sharing the floor looks like a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, particularly with Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome able to stretch the defense with tremendous three-point range.

And while Cavaliers fans would probably prefer not to continue to focus on what happened in March after Hunter was injured, the stunning loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament showed both how valuable Hunter was to UVA and the danger of needing to rely so heavily on one player to make the offense flow.

With both Key and Hunter, foul trouble and injuries suddenly become much less of a concern.

Key’s immediate eligibility is far from a done deal and it’s not exactly clear what are the grounds for his petition. But it’s worth noting that another high-profile transfer from Alabama, quarterback Phillip Sims, was able to get a similar waiver a few years ago transferring to UVa in his home state.

As the NCAA faces greater scrutiny, it’s trending toward more generosity to transfers, which bodes well for Key. And if his petition is approved, the Cavaliers quest for redemption gets a serious boost.

 

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