Keeler: Future bright for Cavs

The Final Four should be a good one this weekend (I’m hoping to see Florida come out on top), but it won’t have the Virginia Cavaliers in it — this year.

Virginia’s season came to a disappointing end last week in a tough loss to Michigan State, but there are plenty of reasons for Cavalier fans to be excited about the future of the program.

Virginia only loses two players, Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Don’t get me wrong, that duo won’t be easy to replace. Mitchell is great on defense, and Harris is just a solid all-around player.

However, the Cavaliers still have plenty coming back, and maybe more importantly they now have players with NCAA Tournament experience returning.

Virginia won a tournament game for the first time since 2007, and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995. I think going through the tournament for the first time as a player is a big deal, and now the Cavaliers will have a team of veterans who know what to expect in the postseason.

The Cavaliers should return leading scorer Malcolm Brogden, and should return 47.4 points per game from this year’s team that went 30-7.

They also return a nucleus that knows how to win, and now knows what to expect in big NCAA Tournament games.

I expect big years from players such as Anthony Gill, Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey and point guard London Perrantes. As a freshman, Perrantes did a great job running the team, and his experience this season should make him an even better player next season.

Virginia also brings in a very talented freshman in B.J. Stith, son of former Cavalier great Bryant Stith. Having seen B.J. Stith play at Brunswick High School, I can tell you that he’s going to do a lot of great things at U.Va.

Stith should help give the Cavaliers a little more offense, which I think is what Virginia needs to get to the next level.

Things will be different for the Cavaliers next season. They won’t be surprising anybody. I think they should at least be a Top 10 preseason team.

It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers handle the pressure of being one of the favorites. I’m sure Tony Bennett will do a good job leading the Cavaliers next year.

Bennett has obviously been the biggest key to the recent U.Va. turnaround. He’s a really good coach who teaches his players to play the game the right way.

I think Bennett has come in and given U.Va.’s program a real boost and now they are on the map. Virginia basketball is once again relevant, and that should also go a long way on the recruiting trail.

Getting more national spotlight helps bring in better players, which will lead to continued success for many years.

Of course, if Virginia takes a step back next year that would really hurt the program. The Cavaliers now have to show that they are a program that is here to stay and be taken seriously. That’s why next season will be pivotal. It’s easy to have that one really good season, but you have to be able to back it up.

It won’t be easy for Virginia, even in the ACC, next season. Louisville is joining the conference, and I expect Syracuse and North Carolina to be really strong again. And of course, Duke will be a force, especially if Jabari Parker decides to stick around for another year (please Jabari, please).

Duke and Virginia are my two favorite teams, so it’s no surprise my early predictions are for a Duke-Virginia final. Only time will tell what will happen, but the Cavaliers have all their fans thinking big after such a great season in 2013-14.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd