Player to Watch: Justin Anderson, G/F
If Bennett does go with a point guard/3 wing lineup, Anderson will likely draw the responsibility of playing bigger than his 6-6 frame due to his physicality and ruggedness. Nolte has the length to play some four as well, but how well Anderson plays this season could be the difference between Virginia being an NCAA Tournament or an NIT team.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/9 at George Mason
11/21 & 23 vs. Michigan/Pittsburgh/Kansas State (NIT Tip-Off)
11/28 at Wisconsin (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/5 vs. Tennessee
12/22 vs. Old Dominion (in Richmond)
Predicted ACC Finish: 6th
Two steps forward, one step back. A year after making the NCAA Tournament, Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers are unlikely to match that level of success with a young roster that doesn't boast a whole lot of size or skill inside.
The loss of inside/outside threat Mike Scott is obviously going to be felt since he meant so much to last year's UVA team, specifically on the offensive end. His departure leaves the Cavaliers with Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins as the lone returning post players. Both guys were decent enough role players off the bench last season, but neither packs a whole lot of punch on the offensive end. That's where 6-11 freshman Mike Tobey could come into play; he is an inside/outside threat with a decent enough back-to-the-basket game to complement a solid mid-range jumper.
Without a go-to inside presence, Bennett will likely utilize a smaller, more athletic, versatile lineup thanks to the addition of top-50(ish) freshmen wings Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte. Anderson is an aggressive, physical wing who thrives when attacking the rim, while Nolte can light it up from deep. Both newcomers will play a prominent role this season.
Virginia should be a rather balanced team on offense, but junior Joe Harris will likely assume the role of go-to scorer after averaging 11.8 points per game last season. Malcolm Brogdon was the team's top reserve a year ago and is likely to move into the starting lineup, plus be another quality option in any four-guard lineup. Versatile wing Paul Jesperson improved as last season progressed and should see quality minutes off the bench, while freshman Taylor Barnette is likely the odd man out of the rotation.
Starting point guard Jontel Evans, the only senior on the roster, inherits the team's leadership role, which is fitting for a point guard. Evans is a pest on the defensive end and won't have to fill up the scoreboard, but must set the table in running the offense. Freshman Teven Jones will be groomed this season as the backup to likely take over for Evans in 2013-14.
That's when forward Anthony Gill will become eligible for the Cavaliers. He transferred in from South Carolina but must sit out this season. Gill will add some versatility to the frontcourt and have three years of eligibility remaining.
The lack of talent and size inside is a concern for Virginia this season. One thing is certain with any Bennett-coached team; it will get after you on the defensive end and value possession on offense. That must be the recipe for success this year for the Cavaliers to grind out wins and remain in the upper-half of the ACC.