Last season was one for the ages for the Virginia Cavaliers. The team won the ACC regular-season title and ACC Tournament in addition to a #1 NCAA seed. Cavaliers’ fans have waited quite some time to be back on top of the ACC totem pole. Virginia’s previous tournament title was in 1976. In his five-year tenure as head coach, Tony Bennett has made the Cavaliers one of the more respectable programs in the conference. And again this season, Virginia will enter as preseason favorites.
Despite losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, Bennett still has a core of talented and experienced players. Harris was one of the team’s best offensive weapons and he only averaged 12 PPG. Overall, the team averaged 65.8 PPG which ranked 294th in the country. Virginia doesn’t light it up on the scoreboard; they have one of the more slow paced and balanced offensive attacks in the ACC. That will be a huge advantage this upcoming season as the team returns seven upperclassmen, all of which played considerable minutes within the rotation last season.
Charlottesville is ecstatic to have their best player Malcolm Brogdon suiting up for his junior year. Harris was definitely the team’s leader last year, but Brogdon displayed that he’s a complete player. Even though the Cavaliers’ style of offense isn’t intended for high individual performances, one should still expect Brogdon to take a leap in production.
At 6-5, Brogdon has tremendous athleticism which allows him to get into the lane at will and defend multiple positions. It’s a no-brainer for Bennett; Brogdon will take the reins of the offense. He’s the real deal. Last season, he led the team in minutes, points, FT%, and steals while being second in assists and rebounds. But Brogdon isn’t perfect. He does have areas in his game where he can improve. He shot a 37% from three and a 41.0% from the field, which is not terrible but nor is it great. But if he works on his shot selection and is able to develop a consistent jump shot, he has a great chance of reaching first-team All-ACC.
The Cavaliers will sport a very strong back court this season. Point guard London Perrantes emerged as one the top freshmen in the conference. He averaged a little less than four assists per game while shooting 44% from three in 30 minutes per contest. Having played in all 37 games last season will surely pay dividends for Perrantes. His experience will allow him to play more aggressive and confident as the floor general.
Rounding up the starting line-up will most likely be a trio of forwards. Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey all played major roles for the team last season and will be given more responsibilities this year. Anderson was voted ACC Sixth Man of the Year while only playing 21.5 MPG. With the departure of Harris (28.8MPG), there will be more minutes available on the perimeter for Anderson.
The one area Cavaliers’ fans should be concerned about is the team’s front court. Akil Mitchell was second in votes for Defensive Player of the Year last season and was the inside presence who controlled the paint and corrected any defensive lapses. With Mitchell gone, Virginia’s titles hopes will rely on Gill and Tobey and their ability to transition into their bigger roles. As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers’ depth will be a major advantage. Darion Atkins and Evan Nolte are a pair of forwards with playing experience that will support the starting front court, and throw in the Cavaliers’ recruiting class which features shooting guard B.J. Stith, and Bennett will once again have a strong balanced attack.
It’s safe to assume that Virginia will be one of top teams defensively in the nation. The team’s defensive tenacity is second to none. Last season, the team ranked first in the nation in points allowed (55.7PPG). Granted, this year’s team may not have the same pieces that made them a defensive juggernaut, but they will remain to be a tough team on the defensive side. The basketball world is on full notice. You cannot overlook a Bennett team any longer. Expect for them to build off last year’s success and compete for another ACC championship.