Our ACC basketball previews continue with the Virginia Cavaliers. Will Ojanen takes a look at a Virginia team that looks to replace a player so significant he was listed three times in our Players Lost section of the preview.
After making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in five years, the face of the Virginia Cavaliers is changing. Mike Scott, who was a round for quite a long time, is now in the NBA, and now Virginia has to replace his scoring, rebounding, and his leadership. Not one person on the roster will do that. It will have to be done by a combination of players on the roster.
His calling card is defense, but Jontel Evans had a much improved shooting season last year. After two seasons shooting below 40%, Evans shooting percentage rose to 47% last year. He scored a lot more once conference season got going. With him in the backcourt is Joe Harris, who is a very good shooter. His numbers may be a bit deceiving. He was playing a lot better than his stats looked until he broke his hand. But he showed toughness and played the final nine games of the season with it. He could be Virginia’s leading scorer this year. Malcolm Brogdon will also provide some scoring too. He’s been banged up, but once he does return, will be a nice scoring option. In the meantime, Paul Jesperson will get some playing time. He’s got some size for the guard spot, but still needs more time to develop.
The biggest question mark for the Cavs is here. With Scott and Assane Sene gone, the Cavs will need to replace their two primary frontcourt players. This means more playing time for Akil Mitchell. A primary role player, the junior showed a little promise at the end of the season when he got a double-double in the ACC Tournament. Who starts alongside him is more of a question. Darion Atkins showed some promise as a rebounder last year, but only averaged 10 minutes per game. Aside from that, there’s a trio of freshman who are vying for playing time. The highly touted Justin Anderson has been regarded as the next big thing for the Cavs. He will play plenty early, and will score plenty as well. Evan Nolte is a 6-8 shooter who will cause trouble for defenses because of his size and range. Mike Tobey is a big man who is still undersized in terms of strength, but will still play some.
There are a couple of non conference games of note for the Cavs. They will go to Wisconsin for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as well as host Tennessee in early December. They will also face in state rivals George Mason and Old Dominion. The conference schedule gives them a break in that they only face Duke once, which will be in Charlottesville. The Cavs do face UNC and Florida State twice, however.
The Cavs really faded down the stretch last season, and a lot of that was due to injuries. By the end of the season, the Cavs were regularly using walk ons. Barring another rash of injuries, that shouldn’t be an issue this year, although there is a lot of youth on the bench. There are eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster, and for the most part, they will be coming off of the bench. Scoring could be a bit of an issue for the Cavs as well. Joe Harris is the only proven scorer on the roster. Justin Anderson is expected to be a scorer as well, but after that, who knows? One thing we do know is that Virginia will continue to play the same stingy defense they’ve been known for under Tony Bennett. Because of the youth and questions with scoring, they’ll likely finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC this year.
Joe Harris has quietly had two great seasons at Virginia. Last season was interrupted with a broken hand which Harris played through to end the season, but Harris' play and numbers were affected by the injury. Look for Harris to lead Virginia in scoring and fill up the stat sheet for the Cavaliers.