Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers took the ACC by storm last season, losing only two conference games on their way to the regular season and postseason conference titles. This year, they are looking to build off one of the best seasons in program history.
With only two key departures, Bennett will have his squad ready for another run at conference supremacy and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Since taking over in 2009, the 2014 ACC Coach of the Year's Cavaliers have gone 106-60, installing a level of consistency the program hasn't seen in years, quickly making him one of the best coaches in the NCAA.
2013-14 Record: 30-7 (16-2)
Last Time We Saw Them: They beat us, pretty good actually. The Orange took the trip down to Charlottesville in their inaugural ACC season, and got crushed when they were ranked fourth in the country, 75-56. The win gave the Cavaliers their first outright conference title in 33 years, and was the third Orange loss in a season-ending stretch that would see them lose six of their final nine games.
Season Summary: A 9-4 start in non-conference play, including an 0-2 mark against ranked opponents, was not what this squad was looking for as a start. When the conference season started, however, a different team suddenly appeared. They won 16 of their first 17 conference games, enough to earn them the double-bye and a number one seed in the conference tournament, which they ran through with three wins in three days.
As the number one seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers got through the second and third rounds and on to Madison Square Garden. There, they matched up with the mighty Michigan State Spartans, who were too much to handle on that March evening, falling 61-59 and concluding their season.
Malcolm Brogdon (12.7 PPG/5.4 RPG/2.7 APG): This All-ACC first teamer had a superb sophomore season for the Cavaliers, leading the team in points, minutes and steals while finishing second in assists and rebounds. This guy does a little bit of everything. He shot 37 percent from three and 87 percent from the charity stripe as well. His weakness is his shooting efficiency, only making 41 percent of his shots from the field on the season. Look for that to improve this year, which has a very good chance of him becoming first team all-conference for the second straight year.
Anthony Gill (8.6 PPG/4.0 RPG): In his first year with the Cavaliers as a transfer sophomore, Gill brought a lot of consistency to the floor, sporting a team-high 58.1 field goal percentage. After playing in all 37 games, look for Gill to move into the starting lineup after being one of the best bench players on last year's squad. This guy will come back even better this season.
London Parrantes (5.5 PPG/3.8 APG/2.2 RPG): The speedy freshman was ranked 96th in the ESPN Top 100 of the Class of 2013, but he came out and played like an upperclassman for the Cavaliers in his first year, doing a great job as the team's floor general in 30 minutes per game, second most on the team. As a youngster on a team that was good at sharing playing as a unit, this guy just had to control the tempo and take care of the ball. He did both, as his speed helped keep defenses on their toes, and he only turned the ball over 1.1 times per game. I really like this guy, I think he will come out and have an excellent sophomore campaign.
Personnel Changes: Virginia lost one of their best players, guard Joe Harris (12 PPG/2.9 RPG/2.3 APG), who graduated and is now hanging out with LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was their best three-point sniper at 40 percent and their senior leader. Losing somebody like him is hard for any team to replace. Big man Akil Mitchell also completed his senior year on campus in 2013-14, finishing as the team's leading rebounder. Another tough loss from a team that really mastered playing as a unit.
To add salt to the wound, their incoming recruiting class was not that great, failing to grab any players in the ESPN top 100. Marial Shayok originally committed to Marquette before Buzz Williams left, but the 6-foot-6 guard is apparently a versatile talent. B.J. Stith, the son of the school's all-time leading scorer Bryant Stith, has some big shoes to fill heading into his career with the Cavaliers. Big men Isaiah Wilkins and the New Zealander Jack Salt might see some minutes as well. These guys won't have a huge impact right away, but they will learn from a good coach and teammates, so look for them to make more of a difference in the future.
2014-15 Potential: With seven players that played more than 30 games last season returning, the Cavaliers should still be pretty good. They were picked to finish fourth in the conference and were ranked 8th and 9th respectively in the AP and USA Today Coaches' polls. These guys will prove to be a handful for a lot of teams yet again.
Orange Matchup: Hopefully this season's matchup in the Carrier Dome will be a little bit easier for the Orange, who were outmatched on both ends. The Cavaliers shot 50 percent from the field while the Orange made a measly 20 out of 62 shots in their only matchup of 2014. Virginia was consistent all year on both sides of the ball and the Orange were just flat out awful on the offensive end, so against a good defensive team these stats shouldn't come as a surprise.
Somebody will have to step up for the Orange, and I think it will have to be either Trevor Cooney or Rakeem Christmas, if not both. The Orange will need a consistent scorer to beat this team, so if Cooney can come out hitting shots then things will become easier for them. If Christmas can control the paint and grab a lot of the Cavalier misses, the Orange will be in good shape because against a team like this, possession and tempo are very key, and Christmas securing rebounds can help dictate run outs and offensive setup. The Orange will have to keep up the pressure on offense because the stifling Cavalier defense can also prove to be their best offense.
The Cavaliers matchup well with a lot of teams due to their depth, and the Orange will be no acception. I think the Cavaliers will be good, but not as good as they were last year. Look for the Orange to take a close victory in 2015.