CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn’t ready to acknowledge that the Cavaliers have their deepest team and highest expectations in several years. He wants his players to earn whatever accolades they get.
Virginia seems more than capable of doing just that.
Sure, the Cavaliers lost point guard and team captain Jontel Evans to graduation. Guards Paul Jesperson, who started 33 of 35 games, and reserve Taylor Barnette, transferred.
But Virginia added plenty of talent to fill the holes.
Malcolm Brogdon, who missed all of last season following foot surgery, is finally healthy and figures to get significant playing time at the point, bringing more scoring than Evans’ 4.2 average. And Virginia has a transfer of its own, 6-foot-8 Anthony Gill from South Carolina, who will bring an enforcer’s mentality to the front court.
“He is one of the more aggressive or physical forwards we have in terms of drawing fouls,” Bennett said. “Even in practice there are not a lot of fouls called at this stage … he has an ability to draw contact and pick up fouls. I think he will get to the free-throw line and he is a very good offensive rebounder, has good moves, so he brings that ruggedness that is a threat when he has the ball.”
Then there are the returnees who contributed.
Joe Harris is back after leading Virginia in scoring at 16.3 points per game last season, and so are the other top five scorers: Akil Mitchell (13.1), Justin Anderson (7.6), Mike Tobey (6.8) and Evan Nolte (5.7). The last three were freshmen a year ago, and should be stronger and more refined as sophomores.
With Brogdon and Gill both expected to add scoring punch as well, the number of scoring options should allow Harris not to draw as much attention, or wear down late in the year as he did last season.
“This is the most depth and talent since I’ve been here,” Harris said.
The Cavaliers also feel like they have something to prove, after not getting an NCAA tournament berth despite a 21-11 overall record, and an 11-7 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Here are five things to watch from Virginia this season:
BROGDON AND GILL: Brogdon figures to blend in easily, especially if he has Bennett’s Pak-Line defense down and sees appreciable time at the point. He’s mature beyond his years, and can score, something Evans had trouble with a year ago. Gill’s presence figures to help fellow frontcourt players Akil Mitchell, a very good rebounder, and Mike Tobey, who said he learned while playing for the U.S. Under 19 team this summer that what sets the great players apart is relentless intensity.
INSIDE-OUTSIDE: Bennett loves the 3-point shot, and he really love the open 3-point shot taken in rhythm. Harris and Virginia struggled to find those at times last season because Harris drew so much attention, but a offensive frontcourt should allow for far more passes from inside out for open 3s.
TOUGHENING TOBEY: Having two bruising power forwards to practice against in Mitchell and Gill, and having the summer U-19 experience, should accelerate Tobey’s development. The 7-footer can shoot with both hands in close, knock down 3-pointers, block shots and rebound. All he lacks is the commitment to always being that guy, and he said being on the U-19 team this summer, but playing sparingly, showed him what it takes to shine.
POINT PROTECTION: In Teven Jones and freshmen Devon Hall and London Perrantes, the Cavaliers have a wealth of depth at point guard behind Brogdon, so much so that one of them could redshirt. A year ago, they started the season with no point guards, and early losses to teams from the Colonial Athletic Association contributed to them finding themselves in the NIT, and not the NCAAs.
MR. EXCITEMENT: Justin Anderson arrived last season with much hoopla as a hotly pursued recruit, and he showed why on numerous occasions with big blocks on defense and highlight reel dunks. The crowd buzzes when he has the ball, as if expecting the spectacular, and he often delivers, but Bennett said he needs to work on being more consistent and “continuous,” or going hard all the time, not just in spurts.