ACC Preview: Virginia’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 14th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page located here.

Are last year’s reserves ready to step into the prime time?

Virginia as a program enjoyed a renaissance of sorts under Tony Bennett last year, winning its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years and first ACC Tournament in 38 years. After a slow start in the non-conference slate, Virginia turned it on after the New Year and finished with a record of 30-7, a #1 seed in the East Region, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Bennett has stressed that despite Virginia’s lofty preseason billing, this is a different year and team. While Virginia returns 70 percent of its core in terms of playing time, the losses of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are hefty ones. The players counted on to replace the production and leadership of those two stalwarts will largely determine if the Cavaliers can have an equally or even more successful 2014-15 season.

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

The good news for Virginia is it is the ACC team best-suited to replace outgoing starters, as Bennett stresses a team-oriented concept that operates without the need for true superstars. Guard Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s best offensive player last year, led the team in scoring at a mere 12.7 points per game. While Brogdon may raise those numbers as he continues to take more of a leadership mantle, it’s not necessary that he do so for the Cavaliers to win. Justin Anderson, the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year, will likely step into the starting spot vacated by Harris. While not the three-point threat of Harris, Anderson’s athleticism coupled with capable long-range shooting should keep defenses honest. The backcourt is still in great hands with London Perrantes running the show (after he returns from his one-game suspension), a rising sophomore who displayed remarkable poise and ball security as a freshman. If Perrantes continues to be a threat when looking for his own shot, the Cavaliers’ backcourt could be its calling card on the offensive end.

Even with Mitchell’s departure, the frontcourt is where Virginia could really improve this year. Mike Tobey showed great touch around the basket but sometimes lacked the physical nature befitting a 6’11” center. If he can become a more consistent force inside while staying out of foul trouble, he can become a major weapon. Anthony Gill, who was nearly as impressive a reserve as Anderson last year, will likely slide into the four spot. Gill’s instant offense off the bench was what he was most noted for, but his aggressiveness also aided him on the other end and with his rebounding. Darion Atkins, lost in the shuffle most of last year, returns for his senior year with a chance to do a lot of the little things that made Mitchell so valuable.

While Virginia lost two outstanding players to graduation, the fact that the team is built around production by committee and not around one or two stars means that it is in excellent position to compete for a second straight ACC title. Brogdon should have an All-ACC season in his second year back from a foot injury and has already proven a keen ability to come through in crunch time. Tobey, now a junior, should show more consistency than he did a season ago. The main question for Virginia is whether super-subs Anderson and Gill are ready to play 25 or more minutes per night at the same level of intensity they did a year ago, and whether Atkins can help replace the dirty work performed by Mitchell. Thanks to Bennett’s philosophy, Virginia will be one of the best defensive teams in the nation so the Cavaliers are going to remain in every game until the end. Having their reserves step up and replicate the offensive production of Harris and Mitchell will determine how many of those games they can win.

Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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