Tommy Keeler Jr.: Cavaliers should be better

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

Expectations are high for Virginia’s men’s basketball team.

After a 30-7 record last year, including 16-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the regular season, can the Cavaliers be even better? I actually think they can and will be better.

The only lost Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to graduation. They have a solid freshman class led by B.J. Stith, son of U.Va.’s all-time leading scorer Bryant Stith.

The Cavaliers will once again have plenty of height. They have six players 6-foot-8 or taller. They will miss Mitchell inside, but Anthony Gill did a great job last year. The South Carolina transfer averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season.

Junior Mike Tobey will need to continue to improve. The 6-foot-11 forward/center was solid defensively, but needs to improve his shooting. The 6-foot-8 forward Evan Nolte took a step back last season, but will have a chance to make an impact for the Cavs this season.

A solid replacement for Mitchell could come from freshman Isaiah Wilkins, the stepson of former NBA star Dominique. The 6-foot-8 forward plays a hard-nosed brand of basketball, just like head coach Tony Bennett likes.

The Cavaliers are loaded in the backcourt with sophomore point guard London Perrantes and junior shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Perrantes had 140 assists, averaging 3.8 per game. His assist to turnover ratio was the best in the ACC at 4.47-to-1.

Brogdon led the Cavaliers in scoring last year, averaging 12.7 points per game. He also shot 87.5 percent from the free-throw line and had a 3.41-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Junior Justin Anderson was Virginia’s sixth man and averaged 7.8 points per game off the bench. Stith and fellow freshman Marial Shayok will bring even more depth on the perimeter, and I expect both to add a little more scoring punch to the Cavs.

Shayok originally signed with Marquette, but changed his mind when former Marquette coach Buzz Williams left for Virginia Tech in the offseason. I guess Virginia fans can thank the Hokies for adding Shayok to the team.

Virginia opens its season at James Madison University on Nov. 14, and I’m expecting the Cavaliers to do big things this season.

I think they will mostly be the same team, except with a little more offense. I think offense is the only thing that held them back last year.

The Cavaliers led the country in scoring defense last year, and I think under Bennett you can expect another strong defensive team. However, they were 282nd in scoring offense. They can only go up, right?

They are ranked eighth in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and ninth in the AP Top 25 Poll. Of course, we all know rankings mean nothing. I think how the Cavaliers handle being a top-ranked team will be one of the biggest keys to their success this season.

The Cavaliers are still young with only one senior, seldom used forward Darion Atkins. If they can come together and handle the pressure of playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, the sky’s the limit for the Cavaliers.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com