The Virginia Cavaliers are an interesting team, to say the least. After losing former star Malcolm Brogdon to the NBA Draft, Virginia is looking for its new stars to step up. Even though they didn’t win a major tournament in 2016, most fans wouldn’t call the season a failure. Going 29-8 in the dominant ACC conference is no easy task. Facing an experienced team in North Carolina in back to back ACC tournaments is ultimately how they met their demise. Head coach Tony Bennett will look to keep his program on track by winning the ACC for the third time in four years.
Recap of 2015-2016 Season
By adding two four-star recruits after losing Justin Anderson to the NBA Draft, the Virginia Cavaliers were off to another strong start. They finished with a record of 29-8 and was 13-5 in ACC play. Brogdon was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks after yet another sensational season. The 2016 ACC and Defensive Player of the Year stamped his legacy with the Cavaliers. He averaged 18.2 points 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists for a player mostly known for his defensive prowess. Forward Anthony Gill and point guard London Perrantes also helped lead this team to its success. Combined, the duo averaged 24.8 points 9.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. The team did make it all the way to the ACC Championship game, only to fall short by four points to North Carolina. After all the accomplishments in 2015, the season ended with another disappointment. They faced a tough Syracuse team coached by legendary Jim Boeheim in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Virginia lost 68-62 despite having a 14 point lead at halftime.
Outlook for 2016-2017
Tony Bennett will look to make this year the third consecutive #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Losing his leaders in Brogdon, Gill, and center Mike Tobey this will be a different team but with the same style. After adding their first McDonald’s All-American under Bennett in guard Kyle Guy the Cavs’ fans are buzzing. And by adding few top-75 recruits in guard Ty Jerome, guard De’Andre Hunter, and forward Jay Huff their future looks bright. Perrantes is the new leader and will look to make his mark in his senior year. They have already beaten #6 Louisville and accomplished the win pretty convincingly. Perrantes only registered nine points but added seven assists and is showing he can be a scorer and/or playmaker when needed. Forward Isaiah Wilkins and guard Deonte Thompson are also poised to have breakout junior seasons. Both are athletic and under Bennett, they’ll excel on the defensive end of the floor. Forward Mamadi Diakite will also look to impress after his redshirt season last year. Diakite hasn’t been playing basketball long but with his uber-athleticism and size, Bennett will develop him in what should be a talented incoming class.
The 2016-2017 season has the thoughts of many fans and pundits all mixed up. The Virginia Cavaliers do have the talent to succeed in the ACC and in the NCAA Tournament. If Perrantes can put together a Malcolm Brogdon-esqe season, they will be in the perfect place to contend for an ACC title. Bennett is one of the best coaches in basketball but this will be his toughest test. Unlike last season, there’s uncertainty on how the roster will perform this year. There is talent, yes, but they are young and mostly inexperienced. Having to battle teams like UNC, Duke and Louisville won’t be a pushover. Even though under Bennett, they don’t have a losing record against any rival ACC teams besides Duke, this team feels different. All Virginia teams in the past have excelled defensively but the moxie needed to win a National Championship will have to be proven.