Malcolm Brogdon has left The Grounds. The face of the program during its rise under Tony Bennett, the steady and cerebral shooting guard capped his career by being voted ACC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American. Oh yeah, he also completed a master’s degree in public policy.
There’s no replacing a player like that.
“We’re not going to have a clone of Malcolm Brogdon,” Bennett says.
Nor will Virginia have clones of Anthony Gill or Mike Tobey, the other mainstays of a class that tied a school record with 112 wins.
Certainly, it’s a transition year in Charlottesville. But with a senior point guard in London Perrantes, a core of new upperclassmen ready to take ownership, a top-10 recruiting class and a firmly established culture, the Cavaliers are by no means a rebuilding project.
All ACC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Tony Bennett
2015-16 RECORD (ACC): 29–8 (13–5)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Syracuse 68–62 in the Elite Eight
2016-17 PREDICTION: Third in the ACC
G Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.1 apg)
F Anthony Gill (13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
C Mike Tobey (7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Austin Nichols nearly picked Virginia out of high school. The Cavaliers are glad to have him the second time around. After sitting out last season, the Memphis transfer steps into the void created by the loss of Gill and Tobey inside.
“That year of waiting and watching has been significant for Austin,” Bennett says.
The 6'9", 232-pound Nichols brings a lot to work with. He averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Tigers two seasons ago and was third in the nation with 3.4 blocks per game.
Small forward Isaiah Wilkins cracked the starting lineup last year on the strength of his intangibles. A classic effort and glue guy, Wilkins could be asked to score more now that he’s a junior.
Sophomore bangers Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter will also be counted on to make a leap. The most intriguing big man, however, is redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite, a top prospect who sat out last season after reclassifying to the 2015 recruiting class. The slender 6'9" Diakite brings off-the-charts athleticism. But he’s been playing basketball just a few years.
On a team with many new faces, the value of Perrantes can’t be overstated. After he played third fiddle to Brogdon and Gill, this is unquestionably his team.
“London’s greatest strength is his feel for the game,” Bennett says. “His knowing, ‘Okay, this is what the team requires.’”
Last year, Perrantes was asked to be more offensive-minded. He responded by upping his scoring average from 6.4 points to 11.0, and by hitting 48.8 percent from 3-point range, up from 31.6 the year before. He did it without dropping off as a playmaker.
A similar balancing act will be required this season, but Perrantes, easily one of the league’s top guards, appears to be up to it.
Perrantes won’t be without help in a deep and talented backcourt. Also back are redshirt juniors Devon Hall and Darius Thompson and true junior Marial Shayok. A steady ball handler and imposing defender at 6'5", Hall started 20 games last season. Thompson is an explosive athlete who averaged 4.3 points and shot 39.0 percent from 3-point range in his first season at Virginia after transferring from Tennessee. He is capable of a breakout junior season. Shayok is a long and athletic perimeter defender with an aggressive approach offensively.
With all that depth, it’s tough to see how even freshmen as talented as Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter — all top-100 prospects — can find much playing time. But don’t count them out.
Win the ACC in consecutive seasons and what do you get? A top-10 recruiting class. In McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy, fellow guards Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter and forward Jay Huff, Virginia snagged four top-75 recruits. Throw in transfer Austin Nichols, an all-conference pick at Memphis, and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite, and this is a group that should pay dividends both immediately and far into the future.
With 89 wins and two NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds in the last three years, Virginia is the ACC’s new model of consistency. It says a lot about how far the program has come under Bennett that an Elite Eight appearance can feel like a disappointment.
This season feels like a continuation of something sustainable. There’s an intriguing combination of old and new — a core of upperclassmen and a wave of young talent.
Fitting it all together will be Bennett’s biggest challenge. It’s one he’s excited to undertake.
“A lot of people maybe think we don’t have the same firepower,” he says. “We’ve got to figure out how to take on the challenge with this new group.”