Keeler: High hopes for U.Va. basketball

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

While last weekend resulted in another disappointing loss for the University of Virginia’s football team, there is something to look forward to for U.Va. fans — men’s basketball season is just around the corner.

The Cavaliers return a strong nucleus of players from last year’s 23-12 squad. Virginia finished fourth in the ACC last season and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Tony Bennett hiring, but as he starts his fifth season Bennett is starting to make me believe he can get it done.

He has done a good job of recruiting and getting the players to play the way he wants them to play. Bennett likes more of the slow-down style of offense, relying on post play and defense. It’s not always fun to watch, but the Cavaliers are having success.

The key cog for the Cavaliers is senior guard Joe Harris, who averaged 16.3 points per game last season.

Harris can do a little bit of everything. He averaged more than two assists per game, four rebounds and shot 46.8 percent from the field, including 42.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Cavaliers have depth throughout their team, including at the guard spots. Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon is back after missing all of last year with an injury, and has experience at both guard positions. He is expected to be the starting point guard this season.

Freshmen Devon Hall and London Perrantes, and sophomore Justin Anderson are also expected to contribute at the guard spots.

Virginia’s frontcourt may be one of the best in the ACC this season. The Cavaliers have size and depth, and I do mean a lot of it. It’s hard to imagine there’s a team out there with more size than the Cavaliers.

Senior Akil Mitchell will lead the way. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season. Darion Atkins, another of the team’s five 6-foot-8 forwards, will give U.Va. another solid defender inside the paint. Then there’s Mike Tobey, a 6-foot-11 sophomore center, who played for the U.S. at the U19 World Championships this past summer. Tobey only averaged 6.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last year, but don’t be surprised to see his game flourish as a sophomore.

University of South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill, another 6-foot-8 forward, should give the Cavaliers a real boost this season as well. Evan Nolte, also a 6-foot-8 forward, will give the Cavaliers a shot in the arm from the wing. Nolte shot 38.9 percent from 3-point range last season.

With the addition of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh this season, the ACC should be the best conference in college basketball. The Cavaliers open up at home against James Madison on Nov. 8 and then host Virginia Commonwealth University on Nov. 12. They also host Wisconsin in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge on Dec. 4, and they play at Tennessee at the end of December.

Then things will get even tougher as the Cavaliers play their ACC schedule. Luckily for the Cavaliers they only play Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse once. They play Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Maryland twice.

The Cavaliers were ranked 25th in the USA Today Preseason Top 25 poll, which came out last week. I think the ranking is about right. They were also picked to finish fourth in the ACC, at the ACC media day. Harris was also a Preseason All-ACC selection.

I think Virginia has the talent, size and depth to have a very big season this year, and I think they will make the NCAA Tournament. If they get there, there’s no question they will be battle tested by a tough schedule, and they could even make a run in March Madness.

Bennett has slowly but surely brought this program along, and I think they’re on the verge of gaining more and more national attention.

If nothing else, U.Va. fans will have something to cheer about and to take their minds off of a very bad football season.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd