Can Virginia Duplicate the Success of Its 2015-16 Squad?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 23rd, 2017

It’s still early in the season, but the initial returns are all positive on Virginia this year. Certainly home wins over UNC-Greensboro, Austin Peay and Monmouth are nothing to boast about, but a road win at VCU is typically a nice resume booster. There are, however, some revealing similarities to a recent group of Cavaliers that should make the good people of Charlottesville smile. The 2015-16 Elite Eight team that featured Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill started in much the same way. Early comparisons between the two teams seem fair.

A lot to potentially smile about for Tony Bennett and Virginia this season. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

We know that Tony Bennett teams live and die by their defense. In the first four games of this season, the Cavaliers are allowing their opponents to shoot just 37.5 percent from the field. Through four games of the 2015-16 season, Virginia held its opponents to 37.4 percent shooting. This year’s team relies more on steals (8.3 vs. 5.0 SPG) and blocks (3.8 vs 2.5 BPG) than those Cavaliers, thanks to a starting front line (Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt) that is a stronger defensive unit than Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey. Bennett has also been adamant that his team get to the line more often. The 2015-16 team attempted 67 free throws in the first four games of the year; this year’s group has notched 74 attempts. That team had a deep backcourt, so when London Perrantes or Brogdon went to the bench, Bennett could turn to Darius Thompson, Marial Shayok or a young Devon Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: November 17-19

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 17th, 2017

While most of the big tests for ACC teams begin next week, there are still some intriguing match-ups on the schedule this weekend. Here are the key games that will act as your appetizers before the main course of Feast Week starting in earnest on Monday. (all ratings are via KenPom as of Thursday night):

Friday, November 17

Virginia Travels to Richmond for a Tough Intrastate Battle Today (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia at VCU (#89): Don’t forget about this Friday afternoon tip-off in Richmond. Expect the Siegel Center to be rocking. The raucous atmosphere mixed with VCU’s signature defense will be a nice test for a young Virginia team, especially point guard Ty Jerome. He holds a 23.5 percent turnover rate through two games and will need to be extra careful handling the ball against pressure. Isaiah Wilkins is one of the top defenders in the country, but he’ll need to be at his best to slow down VCU’s Justin Tillman. The 6’7” Tillman (20.5 PPG, 78.3% eFG) has been dominant in the Rams’ first two games of the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

With Austin Nichols Gone at Virginia, Who Takes His Place?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Earlier this evening, Virginia made a shocking announcement that not only affects the outlook of the Cavaliers season, but that of the entire ACC. Forward Austin Nichols, who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis, has been dismissed from the program. In the announcement, Tony Bennett said, “It’s a privilege to be a part of this program and Austin has lost that privilege. We have standards for our student-athletes and when those standards aren’t met, there are consequences and this is the unfortunate consequence.”

Despite some issues at Memphis, Nichols had (apparently) been a model citizen in Charlottesville during the 2015-16 season while he was practicing with the team. It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser when Nichols was suspended for Virginia’s first game of this year, and there were a few questions asked when he came off the bench in the Cavaliers’ second contest against St. Francis (Brooklyn). Still, nobody expected this to be the next act in this saga.

When Anthony Gill graduated following last season, most in the Virginia program weren’t worried thanks to the presence of Nichols. They felt Nichols could replace Gill by stepping right into the role of an effective scorer on the low block and an elite shot blocker on the defensive end of the floor.

Isaiah Wilkins is one of several Cavaliers who will need to step up in the absence of Austin Nichols. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)

No one player on the roster can solely take over for Nichols so it will take a committee. On the offensive end, Isaiah Wilkins will be asked to be more of a volume scorer. Through two games, Wilkins is shooting 62.5% from the field, and he will now have to be the go-to scorer in the Virginia frontcourt, a role he has never played before. He is much more of an inside-out scorer than a typical back-to-the-basket player, however. That role will likely go to Jarred Reuter, who played sparingly last year but is a favorite of Tony Bennett thanks to his creative back-to-the-basket play. He has averaged 17 minutes per game in the Cavaliers first two contests, and you can expect that to rise in the coming games. Finally, they will need to replace Nichols on the defensive end, which will fall to Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite. Both Salt and Diakite are quite raw with Salt playing limited minutes last season and Diakite redshirting, but both can be effective defenders. Salt is a bruiser at 6’10” and 240 pounds and can be a load to try to keep off the boards. Diakite is smaller at 6’9” and 195 pounds, but Bennett loves his athleticism. He should end up being an excellent shot blocker, but it remains to be seen how he will handle the physicality of the ACC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Where will the points come from this year?

It’s been a historic three-year run at Virginia, with 89 overall wins, a 45-9 ACC record, an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. A stingy pack-line defense has been the cornerstone of Tony Bennett‘s program during this run, but his offensive attack has been better than most realize. Virginia’s point totals never look impressive because of its extremely slow pace of play, but from an efficiency standpoint they have actually finished among the best in the land (i.e., a top-22 finish in KenPom‘s offensive efficiency rankings all three years). The main cog in that attack — Malcolm Brogdon — led the Cavaliers in scoring for those three years, including a career best 18.2 PPG as a senior. According to Bennett, some of his veteran returnees will have to shoulder more of the scoring load. Senior point guard London Perrantes, one of those upperclassmen, is still around. He led the ACC in three-point accuracy last year, making a blistering 48.8 percent of his shots from deep, and he has obviously earned the confidence of his coach. At ACC Operation Basketball last month, Bennett said, “He’s smart enough to figure out where he has to look and be assertive, but he’s also smart enough to say what does the team need, who needs to touch the ball.”

Senior London Perrantes may have to look to score more for Virginia without Malcolm Brogdon around anymore. (wahingtonpost.com)

Senior London Perrantes will look to score more for Virginia, without Malcolm Brogdon around. (washingtonpost.com)

While Perrantes is a known quantity, the rest of the returnees have mostly been role players to this point in their careers. Only one of those returnees other than Perrantes managed to top 11 points in any game versus a conference foe last year. Four juniors will get a first crack at increased roles in the Virginia attack — forward Isaiah Wilkins and guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson. The undersized Wilkins spent a lot of time in the post last season, but Bennett encouraged him to work on his outside shot to make him more of a scoring threat. All three junior guards have good size and versatility, but none has ever been offensively aggressive. Shayok is the player who probably has the most potential, though, as he has connected on 40 percent of his threes in his first two years. The Cavaliers also return a couple of bangers in the paint — sophomores Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter. Neither showed much offensive flash in their first season, but each could earn time as rebounders and screeners. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Preview: Virginia’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2015

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

Can Virginia win a third straight ACC Regular Season title?

After back-to-back ACC regular season titles, Virginia enters the 2015-16 season as a consensus top-10 team nationally. More importantly, Tony Bennett’s program has established itself as one that looks like it can sustain serious success going forward for years to come. Using a proven system of tight half court defense and a balanced efficient offense that doesn’t depend much on individual explosiveness, Bennett is now in a position that any coach would envy. Each year Virginia seems to lose a couple of key guys that are replaced with experienced, tough players. Just like that, the Cavaliers’ machine rolls on. This year’s big loss is Justin Anderson, who left a year of eligibility on the table to leave early for the NBA. Anderson’s mid-season broken hand and subsequent appendectomy may have cost Virginia a chance at greatness last season, but at least it gave other Cavaliers more preparation for this year. Before looking ahead, let’s appreciate what Tony Bennett and company have accomplished over the past two seasons. 2Year VaThis two-year run by Virginia ranks as the ninth best (by winning percentage) in ACC regular season history (a 62 year span). In addition to that impressive conference performance, the Cavaliers have now posted back-to-back 30-win seasons, a feat which has been accomplished only seven other times in the ACC. In fact, Virginia is the only school on that list other than perennial league powers Duke (5 times) and North Carolina (2). The core reason for that success has undoubtedly been the Cavaliers’ stingy pack line defense, a philosophy that produced some amazing defensive performances last year. Here are some examples of such efforts, and note that these contests span a period of four months — Virginia’s defense was outstanding throughout the entire season: Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story