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Virginia Basketball: Cavaliers Team Preview and Season Prediction 2021-22

Kihei Clark, Virginia Cavaliers Basketball

Kihei Clark and the Cavaliers are projected by Athlon Sports to make the NCAA Tournament for the 2021-22 college basketball season

Virginia experienced the highs and lows of the pandemic in 2019-20, pausing three times due to COVID-19 issues, winning the ACC regular-season title and then being forced out of the conference tournament due to a player's positive test.

The Cavaliers' season ended with a disappointing first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Ohio, and the team that takes the floor to open this year will look dramatically different. Virginia lost seniors Sam Hauser and Jay Huff, the Cavaliers' top two scorers, as well as classmate Tomas Woldetensae, a 3-point-shooting 2-guard. Forward Justin McKoy and guard Casey Morsell transferred out of the program, and guard Trey Murphy III declared early for the NBA Draft and was picked 17th overall by the Grizzlies.

In all, the Cavaliers lost 1,281 of the 1,705 points that they scored last season, meaning that head coach Tony Bennett and company are facing a complete rebuilding job on the offensive end of the court. Two Division I transfers, however, have UVA feeling like it will again be in the running in the tough-as-always ACC.

Related: College Basketball Top 25 for 2021-22

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: Tony Bennett

2020-21 RECORD (ACC): 18-7 (13-4)

2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Ohio 62-58 in the first round

KEY LOSSES:
F Sam Hauser (16.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
F Jay Huff (13.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
G Casey Morsell (4.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
G Trey Murphy III (11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
G Tomas Woldetensae (4.4 ppg, 1.0 apg)

Frontcourt

With Hauser, Huff and McKoy all gone, the frontcourt is where the Cavaliers really have the most question marks. They tried to address those by adding East Carolina power forward Jayden Gardner. Gardner gives the team a rugged inside presence on the glass. He was a three-year starter for the Pirates, and Bennett compares him to former Cavaliers standout Anthony Gill, whose crafty low-post game has him now playing in the NBA.

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Virginia returns only two true post players — 7-foot junior center Francisco Caffaro and 6'11" sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick. Caffaro is a bruiser in the mold of former center Jack Salt, while Shedrick is long and lanky, a perfect fit to play the backend of Bennett's pack-line defense. Those two could rotate at the center position or play together to give UVA an unusually tall frontcourt.

That figures to be a departure from the past season, when Hauser and Huff both thrived as perimeter shooters.

The post won't be deep, but the expectation is that 6'7" wing Kody Stattmann and incoming freshman Igor Milicic Jr., a 6'9" wing from Croatia, can contribute as frontcourt players as well.

Backcourt

Even with the loss of Murphy, the backcourt figures to be the strength for Virginia. Kihei Clark, the point guard on the Cavaliers' 2019 national championship team, is back for his senior year, and sophomore Reece Beekman had a strong debut season. Indiana transfer shooting guard Armaan Franklin will look to fill Murphy's role, bringing perimeter shooting and the ability to drive to the rim. Franklin averaged 11.4 points per game last season, with much of his production coming from 3-point range, while he dealt with some injury issues.

Of the 212 shots from beyond the 3-point arc UVA hit last season, 182 of them came from players no longer in the program.

Virginia will likely need Clark and Beekman to up their scoring outputs. Clark scored 9.5 points per game last year, while Beekman contributed 4.7.

If sophomore guard Carson McCorkle, who played in just eight games last season, makes a substantial jump in production, that could elevate UVA's backcourt.

Final Analysis

With Clark's on-ball defense, Beekman's length and athleticism on the wing, and the mix-and-match options UVA will have in the paint, Bennett appears to have the pieces to field another outstanding defensive club. The pack-line has helped Virginia lead the nation in scoring defense six times during Bennett's 12 seasons, and it has ranked in the top six in the country in that category for each of the last 10 years.

Just how successful the 2021-22 team will be may come down to how seamlessly Franklin and Gardner can master the defensive system. The two transfers figure to be the key to the Cavaliers' offense, but only if they can prove to Bennett that they won't be liabilities on the defensive end of the floor.

Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 32
ACC Prediction: 5