Returning six of their top seven scorers, the Virginia Cavaliers could be a sleeper team in the ACC. In his third season as head coach, Tony Bennett has his team heading in the right direction, but is it too early to be thinking NCAA Tournament?
The return of power forward Mike Scott will be a huge boost for the Cavaliers' tourney hopes. Scott played in just ten games before suffering an ankle injury that cost him the rest of last season. He did receive a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and earned another year of eligibility.
He will be joined up front by Assane Sene. The seven-footer started 27 games last season and provides a defensive presence in the middle with his rebounding and shot blocking, but is very limited on the offensive end. The depth in the post is young and inexperienced. Akil Mitchell played sparingly last season but will compete for minutes with redshirt freshman James Johnson and Darion Atkins.
The injury to Scott forced Bennett to go with a four-guard starting lineup last season. That allowed KT Harrell and Joe Harris to get great experience in their freshmen campaigns. Both guys shot around 42 percent from distance and should benefit from Scott drawing more attention on the block thus leaving the shooters open for better looks.
Freshman Paul Jesperson is a lengthy forward who can shoot the ball from deep and is also capable of playing a point/forward-type role which he did frequently in high school. Malcolm Bragdon is considered the best of Virginia?s incoming freshman class and will add even more scoring on the wing.
Jontel Evans returns to run the point. Since he is not much of an outside shooter, Evans will be relied upon to control the tempo and distribute the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski brings experience off the bench and is capable of playing point guard or also running alongside Evans in the same backcourt. He will be the team?s sixth man and another three-point threat, giving the Cavaliers several guys who are capable of lighting it up from deep.
With Bennett putting his imprint on the Virginia program and a very solid 2012 recruiting class, the Cavaliers should be contending for a NCAA Tournament berth in the very near future. If the pieces fall into place, it could happen as soon as this season since the ACC lacks the depth it has possessed in recent years.
Player to Watch: Mike Scott, PF
The 6-8 forward emerged as the team?s top player last season as he was averaging a double-double before getting hurt. Assuming he is healthy, Scott will be relied on heavily as a low post scorer and rebounder. His outside shot also showed improvement a year ago and being consistent from 15 feet will be a huge weapon.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/18 vs. TCU (Paradise Jam)
11/19 vs. Drexel/Norfolk State (Paradise Jam)
11/21 vs. Marquette/Winthrop/Ole Miss/Drake (Paradise Jam)