Has Virginia Basketball Peaked?

Virginia Roster Analysis

Virginia brings back a deep, experienced, and talented squad that will start the season ranked near the top 10. With stifling defense that allowed the nation’s fewest points per game and a grinding, patient, unselfish offense, Virginia is the team no one wants to play. But Virginia won't surprise anyone next season -- they'll be the ones circled on the calendar. How does Tony Bennett meet this challenge?

Virginia has no holes to fill; while Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell and their combined 18.8 points per game depart, their replacements are clear. Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Justin Anderson are the starters; Evan Nolte and Darion Atkins will play significant minutes off the bench.

The newcomers, including Devon Hall (RS), B.J. Stith, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok, and Jack Salt, won’t need to contribute much. Darius Thompson will obviously sit out the year. Tony Bennett played nine players for over 10 minutes per game last season; that means that for the newcomers, it’s reasonable to expect that only two of them will see real time on the court. It wouldn’t be a surprise for one or two to redshirt.

Last season, four players averaged 25-30 minutes per game; three averaged about 20 minutes per game; and two averaged about 10 minutes per game. Next season, if Bennett follows the same successful recipe, his playing time might fall out like this:


PROJECTED 2014/2015



























































With that formula and the contribution of a mere five points per game from the newcomers and walk-ons, Virginia would have the same scoring output as last season. If, however, Devon Hall or B.J. Stith, for example, are ready to play, there could be some significant upside for the Virginia offense. But for the newcomers, the only way they’re going to get that opportunity is to prove in practice that they know the packline defense. There are some minutes available as depth in both the frontcourt and backcourt; who’s going to step up and take them?

Projected Starters:

Malcolm Brogdon (RS):

Consensus 4-star recruit who spent a medical redshirt year recovering from a foot injury, Brogdon was better than ever in his return. He was often the best player on the court for Virginia, and led the team in scoring (12.7 ppg), minutes (31.4 mpg), and was second in rebounding (5.4 rpg). He was also a clutch 88% free throw shooter on a team that struggled in that department. He was named All-ACC First Team by the ACC Coaches and All-ACC Second Team by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, and named to the ACC All-Tournament First Team.

Brogdon will be the straw that stirs the drink in 2014. He’s the answer to the question, "Who replaces Joe Harris?" Brogdon has natural (if quiet) leadership ability to match his on-the-court talent.

Brogdon’s a great all-around player; if there’s any area of improvement, it’s shot selection. He shot 41% from the field, and not because he’s a bad shooter. It was because he sometimes took bad shots.

With Joe Harris gone, Brogdon will feel the pressure to carry the load offensively, and if he’s not careful he could fall into the trap of throwing up more bad shots. During post-season play, Brogdon’s shooting percentage dropped to 35% from the field, including going 4 for 14 against Michigan State, so there is some (mild) cause for concern that the pressure of being the next Joe Harris might affect his shooting.

Just for comparison, Joe Harris shot 44% from the field and scored 11 ppg during his second year; he stepped up to 47% and 16 ppg in his third year. Hopefully Brogdon can show similar improvement.

Projection: 30 mpg/15 ppg

London Perrantes:

A lightly-regarded three-star PG recruit with no other high-major offers has 16 games as a full-time starter in his first year in the ACC with ZERO turnovers? No wonder Bobby Knight man-crushed on Perrantes, saying, ""I don’t think you can find a kid who does more for his team than Perrantes." Knight raved, "Perrantes knew where everybody was on the floor when he was dribbling. He’s the kind of kid that every coach would like to have. This kid is exceptional. He has as good a vision and as good a control of the ball as anybody can find."

Perrantes plays calm and is always under control, and he uses his excellent court vision to make crisp, on-time passes. And, when needed, this pass-first point guard will deliver a dagger from outside. In fact, he was the team’s most accurate three-point shooter at 43.7%. And he shot 86% from the line! It’s no exaggeration to credit Virginia’s success to the surprising emergence of Perrantes.

While point guard was the big question mark last season, there is no such question now. Perrantes is firmly entrenched as the starter. If anything, Perrantes could work on his strength this offseason; he can be pushed around on defense.

Projection: 30 mpg/8 ppg

Anthony Gill (RS):

Who was the most efficient scorer for U.Va. last season? It would surprise no one to learn that it was Anthony Gill, a transfer from South Carolina. Third in scoring behind Harris and Brogdon, Gill was a spark off the bench who shot a team-leading 58.7% field goal percentage.

Gill averaged 19.8 minutes/game; everyone expects that to increase to somewhere around Akil Mitchell’s 25.7 mpg. But while Mitchell averaged 6.8 points/game, Gill chipped in 8.6 ppg. If Gill’s production remains the same, those extra minutes would translate into almost 12 ppg. In fact, in post-season play, Gill did exactly that, averaging 24 mpg and 12 ppg. That’s got to put a smile on Tony Bennett’s face.

But Gill does more than score. He obviously spent his redshirt year mastering the packline; he’s a very capable defender who was third on the team in rebounding. Gill obviously steps into Akil Mitchell’s starting role next season.

This offseason, he needs to work on that 62.7% free throw shooting; defenses will foul him rather than let him embarrass them inside. If he can make more free throws, he won’t have to eat as many elbows.

Projection: 25 mpg/12 ppg

Mike Tobey:

Mike Tobey is nearly 7 feet tall with a soft touch around the rim and can step out to drain 3-pointers. So how is he not in the NBA draft conversation already?

Tobey still plays young. And soft.

He played well last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds and a team-leading 39 blocks. But while he started 28 games and averaged about 5 more minutes per game, his scoring was down slightly from his first year.

If Tobey were a more assertive scoring option – a true threat in the paint – he would make the Virginia offense nearly unstoppable. Virginia went 9-1 in games where Tobey scored more than 10 points; the one loss was the bloodbath at Tennessee.

I’m certain Bennett’s goal for Tobey in the offseason is to add strength and agility. Last summer Tobey played internationally. This summer he needs to live in the weight room. A more powerful, quicker, more athletic Tobey would add another dimension to the Virginia offense.

Projection: 25 mpg/ 8 ppg

Justin Anderson:

Justin Anderson is a fan favorite and a human highlight reel. He really shines on defense. His spectacular come-from-behind blocks energized the crowd (and the team) on numerous occasions. Anderson is long, strong, and quick enough to guard multiple positions. And would you want to set the screen this monster runs through?

However, Anderson is erratic on offense. Last season, he averaged 22.5 minutes/game and scored 7.8 points/game. He’s a slashing penetrator who can finish with thundering dunks – or bounce it off the rim. He also shot 29.4% from the three-point line, making him the worst three-point shooter on the team. But that didn’t stop him from attempting 102 three-pointers. In six games of post-season play, Anderson made exactly one three-pointer. Far more than Brodgon, Anderson needs to work on shot selection. He’s a highly effective passer with great vision and excellent slasher, but often settled for a three-pointer when there were better options.

Anderson relies entirely on his left hand to finish; developing his off-hand would give him more options and make him less predictable. If he develops his off-hand and improves his shot selection, it’s impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup.

Projection: 25 mpg/ 10 ppg


Evan Nolte:

When highly-regarded four-star Evan Nolte signed with Virginia, his high school coach said, ""He was Virginia’s No. 1 recruiting target for the Class of 2012… And again, he’s Virginia’s No.1 guy. They made that very clear from the start."

Imagine that: Evan Nolte was considered a bigger ‘get’ than Jesperson or Tobey in 2012 (Anderson came into the picture much later). Nolte was considered one of the nation’s top outside shooters out of high school, and his 6’7" height made him difficult to guard on the perimeter.

But his college career hasn’t worked out as planned; last season, he played 9.3 mpg and scored a paltry 2.8 ppg. For a guy who was ostensibly a stretch 4 but was used primarily as a three-point specialist, he averaged only 33.3% from long range, making him the second-worst three-point shooter on the squad, ahead of only Justin Anderson.

Even worse, that’s a significant dropoff from his first year production when he averaged 19.8 mpg and 5.7 ppg while shooting 38.9% from three-point land. Some quietly whispered that Nolte might consider transferring. Nolte’s shooting isn’t the reason he doesn’t play; most believe that if he played enough to establish a rhythm, his shots would find the net. The problem is his defense. He lacks the lateral quickness to play the kind of help defense that Bennett requires.

It’s unlikely that Nolte will see a significant increase in playing time unless he can radically improve his defense this offseason. The trainers must be working on his lateral quickness.

Projection: 15 mpg/ 5 ppg

Darion Atkins:

Shelved after the Tennessee debacle, never to start another game, Darion Atkins bristled at his demotion. "I can't even express how frustrated I get sometimes," he told the media during the team’s remarkable NCAA run. In 2012/13, Atkins played 15.7 mpg and contributed 4.7 ppg and 3.1 rpg. During 2013/14, he dropped to 10.4 mpg, 3.0 ppg, and 2.2 rpg. That was not the third year Atkins expected.

On the possibility of playing more in his final year, Atkins said, "That's the only thing that really keeps me going in this situation…"

Here’s a guy who plays for a coach who preaches selflessness and humility, and at the height of their postseason euphoria, he’s whining about his playing time. Yeah, Darion, that’s how you get back on the court.

That said, Darion Atkins is a more-than-capable role player on this team. His defense is sound, and that’s critical to Tony Bennett. Atkins could play the role of the steady, experienced defensive stopper off the bench.

But Atkins’ offense is pretty bad; for a guy who rarely shoots further than five feet from the basket, he should make more than 48% of his shots. His field goal percentage has dropped from 58.1% his first year to 49.1% his second year – and down further to 48.4% last season. Virginia fans would cringe when Atkins got the ball on offense.

If you look at the frontcourt next year, it’s obvious that Tobey and Gill will get the lion’s share of Akil Mitchell’s minutes. That would still seem to leave plenty of minutes left over for Atkins, but with frontcourt players like Mayok, Wilkins, and Salt joining the squad, Bennett will want to give some minutes to one or more of them. While Atkins started twelve games as a second year and three games as a third year, I don’t expect he’ll start again until his senior game.

This offseason, Atkins needs to accept his role on this team.

Projection: 15 mpg/ 3 ppg


Virginia’s newest recruits have arrived on the Grounds. While they have the luxury of learning behind a well-established, cohesive team, they will have the opportunity to play early. Virginia needs depth. But projecting the impact of first year players is perilous, especially with no open positions of need.

That said, it would be surprising if a guy with Devon Hall’s reputation out of high school didn’t earn some minutes after his redshirt year; I’d pencil him in for nearly 10 minutes per game. Of Wilkins, Shayok, and Salt, whoever can master the packline first should earn some minutes behind Gill, Tobey, and Atkins. And it’s hard to write off a guy with Stith’s basketball pedigree.

Devon Hall (RS): 6’5" 210 pound guard who was a four-star recruit before reclassifying; spent last year redshirting. Considered an outstanding passer, Hall should back up Perrantes at the point guard position.

B.J. Stith: This 6’5" 175 pound shooting guard needs no introduction to Virginia fans – he’s the son of Virginia’s all time leading scorer.

Isaiah Wilkins: 6’8" 210 pound small forward and step-son of Dominique Wilkins.

Marial Shayok: 6’5" 205 pound small forward from Canada. Originally committed to Marquette but changed his mind when his coach took a pay cut to captain the Hokies’ basketball Titanic.

Jack Salt: 6’10" 210 pound center from New Zealand has international playing experience but is largely an unknown at this point.

Darius Thompson: A tall 6’5" point guard who transferred from Tennessee and will sit out a year. As a true freshman, he served as Tennessee's backup point guard and appeared in all 37 games, earning 10 starts.

Bottom line:

Last season, Virginia started slowly as Bennett tinkered with the lineups, dropping early contests against VCU, Wisconsin, Green Bay, and the horror show at Tennessee. Once Bennett tightened up the rotations, the team improved dramatically, roaring into ACC play. This season, expect him to start out with more clearly defined roles for each player to avoid the early-season stumbles, especially with a tougher ACC schedule ahead with the addition of Louisville and powerhouse classes arriving at Duke and UNC.

With his experienced roster, Bennett will make few changes. He’ll play his patented hard-nosed defense and patient offense to frustrate the talented but younger teams in the ACC. The future looks very bright indeed.

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