ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How Will Virginia Fill the Big Shoes of London Perrantes?

Over his four seasons in Charlottesville, London Perrantes was a massive part of Virginia‘s 112 wins and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Since taking the reins of the offense as a freshman, the 6’2″ point guard was a calm and steadying influence during a four-year career that resulted in a pair of ACC championships. There will be a changing of the guard this season as head coach Tony Bennett needs to now rely upon pair of sophomores who showed flashes of brilliance last season. The first of those players is sophomore guard Ty Jerome, who recorded a 60.5 percent effective field goal percentage last year and took over the game at Villanova down the stretch before the Cavaliers lost on a last-second tip-in. Jerome injured his foot over the summer and missed Virginia’s preseason scrimmage as a result, but he is expected to be ready to go for the regular season opener against UNC-Greensboro next week. If Jerome misses any time, look for Rutgers graduate transfer Nigel Johnson to step into the starting point guard role. With a quick first step and a proven ability to find open looks, Johnson could be a key spark plug to provide offense when needed.

Sans man-bun, can sophomore Kyle Guy become the scorer Virginia needs? (USA TODAY Sports)

Bennett will look to replace Perrantes’ leadership with three upperclassmen captains: senior forwards Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins and junior center Jack Salt. Hall is the most steady presence on the roster, acting as a very good yet undersized defender and a serviceable three-point shooter (37.2% 3FG). Perhaps the most important player on the team, Wilkins is an incredible defender and the Cavaliers’ best rebounder. When he was out of the lineup because of an illness at the end of last season, the Cavaliers really struggled. Wilkins’ versatility and athleticism allows Bennett the option of playing either a small, quick lineup with him at the center position or a more traditional style where he slots in as the power forward with Salt in the post. The 6’11” big man isn’t asked for much production on offense — his primary asset is as a physical, lock-down defender in the post — but Bennett would like to find some low-post scoring somewhere. Perrantes’ scoring and shot-making ability should be filled by sophomore Kyle Guy. Guy, a former McDonald’s All-American, was streaky in his freshman season and drove Bennett crazy with defensive inconsistencies, but he still shot 49.5 percent from three-point range and is not afraid to take the big shot. After working hard to bulk up in the offseason, look for Guy to try to force the issue offensively this season and get to the line more often.

Perhaps more than some recent Virginia teams, what is so exciting about the 2017-18 version is the upside of some of Bennett’s younger players. Redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite was too raw to contribute very much last year, but his athleticism is already off the charts. Look for the 6’9″ jumping jack to become an elite shot-blocker in his second season. DeAndre Hunter is a talented wing who redshirted last year but has Virginia fans dreaming of another Justin Anderson. They’ll need him to be as productive as advertised. The most exciting new prospect is Jay Huff, another redshirt last year. Huff is a 7’1″ marksman in the mold of former Arizona star Lauri Markkanen and has the kind of upside to be a game-changer in the ACC. Virginia may no longer have Perrantes running the show in Charlottesville, but all of these rising and new pieces could allow the Wahoos to surprise this year.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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