Virginia 2014-15 Record: 30-4, 16-2 in the ACC
Key Players Lost: Justin Anderson, Darion Atkins and B.J. Stith.
Key Players Coming Back: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey, London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok and Devon Hall.
New Recruits/Transfers: Jack Salt (redshirt from New Zealand), Jarred Reuter and Darius Thompson (transfer from Tennessee).
The start to Virginia’s 2014-15 season could not have gone any better. Tony Bennett’s club started out like a house on fire and rode that start to another NCAA Tournament bid while repeating as outright ACC regular-season champs.
Backed by a staunch and smothering defense, the Cavs were mighty impressive to start the season, winning their first 19 games. Some of the 19 wins came against some stiff competition with Virginia knocking off Maryland, VCU, Davidson, North Carolina State, and Notre Dame along the way.
Virginia would drop their 20th game to Duke, but by then they had served notice that playing and beating them would prove to be very difficult. And that it was, as the Cavs won the ACC outright with a 16-2 record.
Again, the Cavs did with defense.
They led the nation in points against, limiting opponents to just 51.4 points per game, while coming in third in the nation in filed-goal percentage defense by allowing opposing teams to shoot just a measly 36.7 percent from the field.
Some of Virginia’s skeptics point out the way they play is boring, but if winning consistently in arguably the best conference is boring, then sign me up. As Herm Edwards ever so eloquently said, “you play to win the game!” And if that involves locking you up, limiting possessions and working for the best shot and winning (racking up a staggering 32 ACC wins the last two seasons), than the Cavs are doing something right.
Just as good as Virginia started, they ended well, too, as they rebounded from the Duke loss to win nine more games in row (including wins over North Carolina, Louisville and North Carolina State). After beating Florida State in the quarterfinals, the Cavs were upset by North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
With an outright ACC regular season championship and an otherwise sterling resume, Virginia would receive a No. 2 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. While they outlasted Belmont, Virginia’s season came to screeching halt when they were upset by Michigan State in the Round of 32.
Granted, the loss to Michigan State was a bitter pill to swallow after such a tremendous regular season, the Cavs under Bennett still proved they are becoming an elite force in college basketball driven by their defense. They are certainly a program on the upswing.
Individually, Malcolm Brogdon, Jr. made All-ACC First Team after averaging 14 points. 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Justin Anderson also had a fine junior season, making All-ACC Second Team after averaging 12.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting a blistering .452 percent from three-point range. If you recall, Anderson missed eight games with a hand injury. The temptation to pass up on the NBA was too strong, as Anderson declared for the NBA draft and was taken by the Dallas Mavericks with the 21st pick this past Thursday.
Mike Tobey won ACC Sixth Man of the Year Award after averaging 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds coming off the bench.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
The loss of Justin Anderson will sting no doubt, as he was a gifted scorer and that will be hard to replace. Otherwise though, Virginia is geared to defend their ACC crown for a second year in a row.
Bennett returns six of the main eight contributors from last season’s team. Back are starters Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes. This veteran trio has been through many wars and they know how to battle and their experience will be invaluable.
Expect Tobey to slide into a starting role and effectively fill the minutes of departed senior Darion Atkins. Tobey has given Bennett a lot of size in the middle the last few years and there is a chance he could finally blossom in his senior season.
Virginia will also be welcoming in some experienced newcomers. Gifted defender Darius Thompson, a transfer from Tennessee, should make an immediate impact in the backcourt.
Perhaps the biggest buzz in Charlottesville, though, is redshirt freshman Jack Salt making his debut this coming season. Salt, a 6’11”, 230-pound center, is a talented and menacing big man from New Zealand. The year off last season will prove to be very beneficial for his progress, as this kid possesses tons of upside. Put him next to Tobey and the Cavs have a lot of talented height to deal with. They will give opposing coaches headaches when trying to counter that size.
It’s obvious the Cavs are moving in on elite status. There is no coach in the country who stresses defense more than Bennett, and as long as he is at the helm, Virginia will always be in the mix for an NCAA run. While it may take some time to adapt to life without Anderson, this is a team that is capable of defending their conference crown yet again. Maybe this time they can make it out of Round of 32, as they certainly have the veteran experience and pieces for a deep run.