Opinion: UVA Basketball will continue success

Owen Stewart, Staff Reporter

The men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia came out of a long period of mediocrity in the 2013-14 season. They came away with 30 wins and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1995, while grabbing the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) regular season and postseason championships. Last season, Virginia followed that up with a second straight 30 win season, again winning the regular season conference championship and reaching #2 in the national polls. That ‘Hoos team saw many awards won. Tony Bennett took home ACC Coach of the Year for the second straight season, and six players also received awards. This year could be just as memorable.

The ‘Hoos had an eventful offseason, beginning with the graduation of starting center Darion Atkins, who was well-respected as a captain and averaged 7.6 points to go along with six rebounds per game. He signed with the New York Knicks as an undrafted free agent. While Atkins was undrafted, second leading scorer and star junior wing Justin Anderson declared for the NBA Draft and was selected 21st overall, in the 1st round, by the Dallas Mavericks. The ‘Hoos also lost rising sophomore guard BJ Stith, who transferred to Old Dominion, and senior walk-ons Maleek Frazier and Rob Vozenilek to graduation. On the other end of the spectrum, the ‘Hoos picked up transfer Austin Nichols from Memphis, who will have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules, and recruited a pair of four-star freshmen in Jarred Reuter and Mamadi Diakite.

The ‘Hoos are in a tough ACC that includes perennial powerhouses in North Carolina, Duke and Louisville, all likely top 10 teams, and other skilled teams such as Notre Dame, NC State and Florida State, but have managed to take the title two straight seasons and are in a position to do it again. Their pack line defense was top 10 in the nation, holding opponents to under 60 points per game last season, and will be strong once again. Starting guards junior London Perrantes and senior Malcolm Brogdon are arguably the best defensive guard duo in the country. Brogdon led the team with 13.9 PPG, and Perrantes led the team in assists. Sophomore Isaiah Wilkins will likely step in at small forward to replace Anderson, and senior Anthony Gill will start at power forward. At the center spot, senior Mike Tobey will start after losing his job to Atkins last season. Sophomore guard Marial Shayok and redshirt freshman center Jack Salt highlight the bench. Shayok showed the ability to finish inside and outside the arc, and Salt was expected to contribute as a true frosh, but Bennett redshirted him seeing that he would play sparingly.

Sure, the expectations will be high for Virginia coming into the season, but I think they can match them, maybe even exceed them. Their defense will always keep the game close, and they have enough offense to take down the other great ACC defenses. UVA has some big games on their non-conference schedule that should test them early. They take on West Virginia, Villanova and California in three straight home games, and also have road games against George Washington and Ohio State. The WVU, ‘Nova and Cal stretch could be the biggest test of the year for the ‘Hoos, as it comes right before the ACC conference schedule begins. It could be the difference between Virginia going into the conference slate in the top 5 and out of the top 25, but the ‘Hoos will be the favored team in most, if not all of those games. Virginia’s conference schedule is basically the opposite, as it is very favorable. They play the elite teams of Duke, North Carolina, Pitt and Notre Dame, just once, and play struggling teams like Virginia Tech and Clemson twice.

Virginia’s basketball team has brought flashes of the Ralph Sampson age back to Charlottesville the past couple of years, and looking at numerous factors such as the schedule, roster and team chemistry, I believe the success of the ‘Hoos will continue throughout the 2015-16 season.                          

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