Next up, the French are coming. Fortunately for those of us that need to run, they are never in a hurry. For the television analogy I am going to go with House of Cards. It’s not action packed, in fact, it’s downright dull at times, but there is no denying it’s greatness. Like House of Cards, this program may be on the edge of a bit of a valley after multiple years of excellence. London Perrantes is now long gone, playing in the Spurs organization, and while not tremendously flashy, there is no denying he was one of the most clutch players in college basketball during the last few years. However, much like Frank Underwood, Tony Bennett is far too great at what he does to ever be counted out, and that’s why the Cavaliers show up at #7 on my list.
Let’s take a look:
There is no denying that the transfer situation has impacted the landscape of college basketball a great deal the last few years. With over 700 transfers in the last 12 + months, each program now experiences two transfers per year on average. Tony Bennett experienced some of this ridiculousness after the 2016-17 season when he lost a trio of contributors that all averaged double digit minutes per game. When you combine that with the graduation of Perrantes and the pure brilliance of Austin Nichols getting himself dismissed from the program about 18 seconds after arriving on campus last fall (Cue Stephen A’s “Lay off the…….” ) and Bennett finds himself in a pretty precarious position.
- As mentioned, London Perrantes was one of the most clutch players in the ACC over the last couple years and really in recent memory. Who do you remember that was more clutch? Bronson Koenig immediately comes to mind as a possibility. Kemba? Probably Kemba. He was amazing. Anyways. When you average less than 71 points per game as a team, losing 12.7ppg and assists on four more baskets a game is a huge deal. Oh, he also snagged 3rpg.
- Marial Shayok was an incredibly underrated player in the ACC. Averaging only 9ppg he wasn’t exactly flashy but he filled that Malcolm Brogdon role of being a knock down mid range shooter (48% from 2pt range), but his 3pt% dipped almost 11% last year from 43.6% his sophomore year to 32.8% in 2016-17. Shayok is now sitting out a year after transferring to Iowa State. Darius Thompson (6.2/1.6/2.2 in 21mpg) also transferred as a graduate transfer and will play for Rick Stansbury at Western Kentucky this season. Jarred Reuter (3.8/2.2/0.6 in 11 mpg) transferred to George Mason.
On a team that ranked 351st in the nation in possessions per 40 minutes (according to Kenpom) Bennett needs players on his team that can knock down open shots and don’t turn the ball over. Losing his starting back court that accounted for 21 ppg is going to be a tall order to fill.
I do also worry a little bit about the front court. Jack Salt is a big dude but he doesn’t offer much in terms of an offensive threat (3.7ppg in 19mpg last year) and he isn’t a rim protector (0.5 bpg over his career). He’s going to go in there are be a 7′ Calvin Klein model and man-handle someone.
That said, I really like this team.
While the Cavs were 351st in possessions per 40 minutes, they were top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) according to Kenpom. Meaning, they don’t have a ton of possessions per game, but when they have the ball, they run their stuff and they score. Bennett also brought in a very nice recruiting class in 2016 that he wasn’t capable of showcasing last season due to depth and not enough minutes to go around, so two of his better recruits took redshirts to ease the log jam and split up the classes a bit. These days certain programs are known for their “next man up” development of players. Programs like Virginia and Notre Dame immediately come to mind and this year is no exception when previewing the boys from Charlottesville. (No, we aren’t going to talk about that other thing.)
Key Returnees and New Faces:
- While Shayok and Perrantes have departed, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome remain. Guy, a former McDonalds All-American, averaged 7.5/1.7/1.3 per game as a freshman (18 mpg) last year and shot a stupid 49.5% from deep on 103 attempts. Jerome is a 6’5 point guard who was a 4 star recruit in the 2016 class. Playing behind Perrantes he didn’t get many opportunities last year (13.9mpg), but did total 50 assists to 30 turnovers on the season, and averaged only 1 turnover every 15+ minutes played. He also shot 39.7% from deep on 73 attempts. Given his size you will more than likely see him be a pesky defender at the point of attack. Guy will need to work on his defense in this scheme in order to be a complete player.
- Along with Salt in the the front court UVA also returns 6’9 post forward Mamadi Diakite, a sophomore who averaged 1.2 blocks per game last year in 14 mpg. He will need to work on his foot work and defensive positioning to cut down on the 2.3 fouls per game he averaged however. If he can be a rim protector and anchor the pack line defense he will get plenty of block opportunities as the defense funnels dribble drives at him.
- Bennett will also have the services of two 2016 top 150 recruits who redshirted last year in De’Andre Hunter (#81 according to VC) and Jay Huff (#142 according to VC). Hunter is a 6’7 SG out of Philly who was a high 3 star/low 4 star prospect who is a real slasher that can also shoot it. He gets off the ground with little effort and runs the floor pretty well while able to finish with both hands. Huff came into the program waaaayyy waaayyy waaaaayyyyy too skinny at 6’11 190, but looks to have taken advantage of his redshirt year and a college level weight program as he is now listed on the UVA website at 7’1 and 230 lbs. If he has maintained his explosiveness through the weight gain this kid is going to be a star. He is a stretch 4 on offense and a shot blocker on defense. If he has truly put on 40 lbs he can be a real force for this squad.
- Also returning is one of the best defensive players in the conference, Isaiah Wilkins, a 6’8 forward who literally does everything. As a junior he averaged 6.8/6.0/1.1, 1 steal, 1.3 blocks, makes FT’s at a 70% clip and had an overall fg% of 55.6%. In 27 mpg he also averages less than 2 fouls. Along the same hard nosed line is senior Devon Hall who averaged 8.4/4.4/1.9 per game in 27 minutes. He makes his free throws (78%) and some threes (37% on 86 attempts) and also somehow doesn’t foul (less than 2fpg in 27+ mpg).
- Joining the program is also highly coveted Rutgers graduate transfer Nigel Johnson. After two years at Kansas State, Johnson sat out the 2015-16 season while transferring into the Scarlet Nights program. He ended up being the second leading scorer for the 15 win team, averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 rebounds and a couple assists per game. He should be able to provide a steady hand if the young fellas in the back court get overwhelmed, which is a possibility as the ‘Hoos will travel to Syracuse, GT, Louisville, Duke and FSU this year. All of which are very hostile places to play with loud crowds.
- Freshman Marco Anthony and Francesco Badocchi also join the Bennett clan. Anthony is a 6’4 lefty guard who probably will not get a ton of run considering what is in front of him but may be a nice down-the-road player. Badocchi is a bouncy 6’7 forward who may be considered more of a project. He is active around the hoop on both ends and may eventually be a Anthony Gill type player if he can put on some weight and play in the paint in the ACC.
This team is young and inexperienced, but they are very talented and long. If Jerome develops as he should and Diakite can anchor the paint, the defense will continue to be stellar in Charlottesville. Guy will score the ball and Wilkins will D-up just about any front court player. Look for Hunter to open some eyes along the way as well. I fully expect this team to make the tournament, but I am not sure they will go deep into it. The development of Huff is going to be fun to watch as his upside is huge.
Projected starting 5: Jerome, Guy, Hall, Wilkins, Salt
Glad it was raining at work today so I could get this written up finally. Been sick all week. Recruiting Roundup will be out Sunday!!