It's been a rough few days for Wahoo fans since UVA fell 61-59 to Michigan State, ending their season in the Sweet 16. Last year's squad fell just short of the NCAA tournament and then came up just short of the NIT semi-finals at MSG; however, that heartbreak was tempered by the promise of an upcoming magical season. And while it's impossible for the UVA faithful to hope for improvement on a season that featured a 16-2 ACC run, an ACC title, and a #1 NCAA seed, there's plenty to look forward to next year.
Virginia loses star Joe Harris, the team's most lethal offensive threat (especially from behind the arc) and an underrated defender, as well as Akil Mitchell, one of the best defenders in the nation and a perfect fit in UVA's packline defense. Still, Tony Bennett should put forward yet another talented, experienced, and deep lineup. Here's an early look at what the 2014-2015 Virginia Cavaliers roster will look like, and who we expect will take hold of the available playing time.
London Perrantes (6-2 So.): Coaches, fans, and analysts couldn't stop proclaiming that Perrantes "looks pretty cool for a freshman." Next year, he'll just be "pretty cool." After shooting 44% from behind the arc this season, expect Perrantes to play a more aggressive role in next year's offense. He may not see as many open looks as this season, especially with Harris gone, but Perrantes should still transition away from his pure "floor general" rep.
Malcolm Brogdon (6-5 Jr.): After a banner 2013-2014 that landed him second-team all-ACC honors, Brogdon will still be just a junior. While Brogdon was a serious threat breaking down opposing defenses and getting to the rim, he shot just 43% on 2s this year, and will look to improve that.
Justin Anderson (6-6 Jr.): It was great having Justin Anderson as the ACC's Sixth Man of the Year...but that's just a sign that he should probably be in the starting line-up. Anderson heads into an important offseason, in which he'll also look to improve his shooting stroke, which showed a flair for the dramatic, but was extremely inconsistent.
Anthony Gill (6-8 Jr.): We all know how dangerous Gill was on offense this year, but next year he'll have big shoes to fill, as Akil Mitchell won't be around to correct any team defensive mistakes, while pulling down every defensive rebound. He did show a serious improvement throughout this past year.
Mike Tobey (6-11 Jr.): Big Mike Tobey's 2014 was a disappointment for Wahoo fans. At times, he showed the potential that we were all so excited about; other times, he lost his aggressiveness and sleepwalked, especially on defense. But remember, frontcourt players' development tends to occur slower, and Tobey has the weapons to make a serious impact.
Devon Hall (6-5 Fr.): A very interesting question mark coming off a redshirt year. Hall was a highly-touted PG recruit who should be ready and raring to go after a year of practice; but, he's firmly stuck behind London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon in the rotation. Hall could play the 1 or the 2, and could see significant time off the bench spelling either of the two.
BJ Stith (6-5 Fr.): It seems like BJ Stith has been a UVA commit for years...and that's because he basically has. The physically gifted Stith has the most potential of the incoming first-year class to see the court and contribute his first year.
Teven Jones (6-0 Jr.): On paper, Teven Jones is in a tough spot, firmly behind Perrantes and Brogdon in the starting lineup, and fighting with freshman Devon Hall for playing time too. But let's not just write Jones out of the rotation - the power of a positive attitude and being an upperclassman can surprise us.
Darion Atkins (6-8 Sr.): After making some ill-advised comments about playing time during the NCAA Tournament, Atkins heads into next season with something to prove. While he looks to be an underdog to make the starting lineup, don't count him out (and he'll be an important part of the rotation regardless). Atkins has the most potential to make up for Akil Mitchell's defense, has a quietly developed offensive game, and will be the team's only senior. Considering the surprising senior seasons that past big-men Jerome Meyinsse and Assane Sene had, Atkins should be a major factor in the rotation.
Evan Nolte (6-8 Jr.): Three-point specialist Evan Nolte shot 33% on three-pointers last year. That's gotta improve for him to see significant playing time, though he did show a more diverse ability at times, especially in post-season play.
Isaiah Wilkins (6-8 Fr.): This should be more of a development season for Wilkins, as he sits far behind the curve compared to the players ahead of him in the rotation. The future is full of promise, but this year he's an attractive redshirt candidate.
Jack Salt (6-9 Fr.): Salt's another candidate for a redshirt, though it's unlikely that Coach Bennett would burn two scholarship years to push two big men back into the same class. He may pick one of Wilkins or Salt to redshirt, and let the more game-ready player serve as frontcourt depth.
Hoping for the same lightning in a bottle that drove this past season's team to become not just the best team in the ACC, but one of the best in college basketball, is probably ill-advised. We'll miss Harris and Mitchell badly. But next year's squad has more experience and a ton of potential.
While any Tony Bennett squad promises to have a great defense, it will be difficult for next year's team to make the jump from "great" (top-25 defense) to elite (top-5) like this year's did. The team has plenty of good defenders, and someone will grow to attempt to fill his shoes, but Akil Mitchell was just too important. On the other side of the ball, opponents have a huge break in not having to focus their efforts on stopping Joe Harris; however, considering Harris's decreased role and the development that we'd expect across the board, it's not hard to imagine that the offense could be almost as good.
Overall, as we look ahead to next season, the Hoos probably won't be as dominant as this past year, but fans could reasonably hope to once again compete in the upper third of the ACC, and clinch a second-consecutive NCAA berth. And...I hate to jump to far ahead of ourselves...but in 2015-2016, when UVA could feature a roster of 6 seniors if (a BIG "if") attrition holds off...look out.