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ACC Previews: Virginia Looks to Lean on Their Defense. Again.

When a team that struggled to score loses three of their key contributors on offense, well.... let's just say it'll once again be an eye-gouging experience to watch the Cavs this year.


The fact that the media is not putting UVA in the bottom third of the conference rankings is a mark of respect for Tony Bennett. The Cavs, who finished an impressive 22-win season last year with only 7 scholarship players, have lost 49% of their scoring punch in the offseason ("punch" here is more like Capri Sun fruit punch, rather than, you know, like getting hit. The Cavs were third from the bottom in the ACC in points per game last year, but that's nothing new for a Bennett-coached team). That includes Mike Scott, who easily could have been ACC player of the year; 13th-year senior Sammy Zeglinski (8ppg, 3apg, 3rpg); and athletic big man Assane Sene. Gone also are K.T. Harrell and James Johnson, who transferred, leaving Coach Bennett's first recruiting class with only 2 players remaining of the original 6.

So, who does that leave? Well, PG Jontel Evans (7 ppg, 2 rpg,4 apg) the lone senior, looks to lead the team, but will have to wait until at least their home opener to do so after foot surgery for a stress fracture on October 2. His ostensible backcourt mate, the occasionally impressive Malcolm Brogdon, severely injured his foot at the end of his freshman campaign and was considering a redshirt this year until very recently. The time-table for his return is still uncertain. That leaves the Cavs with the real possibility of starting leading returning scorer and sharp-shooter Joe Harris (11.3 ppg) , a 6'7" wing player, at the point. His backcourt mate would be rising sophomore 6'6" Paul Jesperson, who averaged just 10 minutes per game last year. Which means 6'8" juniors Akil Mitchell (4 ppg, 4 rpg ) and (little used) Darion Atkins are the only other players with experience that the Cavs can throw out there.

That brings us to the freshmen, who will (obviously) be counted on for a lot. Fortunately for UVA they are bringing in a Top-25 recruiting class which includes three 4-star recruits. Heading the list is 6'6" athletic beast James Anderson, by all accounts a great defender, but a player who still needs some polish offensively. 6'7" wing Evan Nolte is regarded as one of the best shooters in the country and 6'11" Mike Tobey will be looked to take over for Sene as an athletic, shot-blocking (and offensively challenged) center. Guards Teven Jones and Taylor Barnette round out the class.
Virginia was the best defensive team in the ACC last year, hands down, and you can always expect them to be in that conversation while Tony Bennett is the coach. They also turned the ball over fewer times than anyone else and were third in FT percentage. In other words they are fundamentally sound (read: boring). This is sort of the basketball equivalent of "she's got a great personality"). I expect nothing less this year, though their ability to be competitive depends on the healthy return of Evans and Brogdon, the emergence of Harris as a big-time scorer, and major contributions from their freshmen.