The defending national champions finally make their appearance on the list. The Virginia Cavaliers were gutted by the NBA draft, losing their three best players to early entries. The cupboard is not bare however, the top ten kicks off with the Hoos power forward, Mamadi Diakite checks in at #10
Diakite is a player I have long been a fan of, including him in last season’s Breakout 8. He wasn’t able to “breakout” in the traditional sense, but considering the players that made-up Tony Bennett’s squad, being the fourth leading scorer was nothing to sneeze at.
This season, the Guinea native is set to take potentially the largest jump statistically of anyone in the ACC. As a junior, the 6’9 forward averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in just under 22 minutes per contest. He was even slightly better statistically in conference play. His defensive rating of 89.0 for the season ranked behind only Zion Williamson and Eli Thomas among players in the ACC who logged 800+ minutes. He’s also been know to be a bit clutch:
Mamadi has never been “the guy” at Virginia, and normally I would say it would take a player some time to get acclimated to the role. I don’t believe that will be an issue for him. In fact, with Virginia opening up against a Syracuse team that has front court questions, followed by tilts with James Madison and Columbia, I think Diakite opens up the season with a trio of double doubles and answers any questions that some may have about him.
If Virginia is to continue it’s dominance of the ACC and beyond, it starts with Mamadi fully realizing his potential. He will be one of the preseason favorites for DPOY in the conference, but it is his offense that will be paramount as the current roster is void of proven stars.