The Virginia Cavaliers started off hot last year, sitting atop the ACC standings with the Blue Devils in the middle of last season. Head coach Tony Bennett was well on his way to earning ACC Coach of the Year honors, but then they collapsed. Virginia lost nine straight conference games to finish out the year, and also lost their top scorer in Sylvester Landesberg and guard Calvin Baker for off-court issues. Virginia finished 15-16 last season and 5-11 in ACC play, their third consecutive year with five or fewer wins in ACC play. Virginia is once again in rebuilding mode this year and will have to rely on a six-player recruiting class that appears to be pretty solid. These new recruits will be thrown into the wolves immediately, and it’s almost a lock that the Cavaliers have no chance to matching what they did to start last year. The Cavs have only five scholarship players returning, and they lost Landesberg who declared for the NBA Draft.
Mike Scott has been waiting for his chance for three seasons, and he’ll finally get his opportunity to show his stuff this year. The 6’8” senior looks to be Virginia’s top offensive threat this year. He put up 12.0 PPG and 7.2 RPG last season and is a great at hitting the offensive glass. It is murky outside of Scott, where walk-on Will Sherrill started seven games as a junior last season, is the only other player coming back with experience. Freshman James Johnson is likely the surest thing to start immediately as his athletic ability cannot be ignored. Will Regan is a hard-nosed freshman, and 7-foot junior center Assane Sene is basically just a shot blocker.
Bennett is a former NBA guard, and he prizes versatility at the position. He should have a few more options in the backcourt this year since that is where he has the most depth. Junior Sammy Zeglinski should be back to full strength after hip surgery in the offseason. He put up 8.9 points per contest and shot 37.7% from behind the 3-point line a season ago. He has gotten better every year while at Virginia and is the team’s best outside threat. Freshman K.T. Harrell will challenge senior Mustapha Farrakhan for the starting spot at shooting guard. Harrell was Alabama’s class 4A Player of the Year as a senior. Sophomore point guard Jontel Evans gained valuable experience last season, and Bennett loves what he brings to the defensive end of the floor. Freshman Billy Baron has the pedigree as his dad is Rhode Island coach Jim Baron and is expected to play immediately.
Jack’s Pick: 12th Place in the conference – Bennett finally has the players that he recruited, and this is a team that matches up well with what his system. There are still six players around that aren’t the best fit for his system, but the six incoming freshmen certainly should have a bright future with the program. The problem is that the success isn’t likely to be seen this season as this is obviously a rebuilding year at Virginia. Bennett said it perfectly, “They’ll have to form a bond quickly, and if they do I think we could be enjoyable to watch, and fans will see some hope for the future.” Even Bennett doesn’t expect a whole lot out of this season, and neither do I.
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