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Virginia Basketball Scrimmage: Six things we learned

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It can be hard to take much away from a scrimmage, but here’s what we observed.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With 19 days until tip-off against UNC-Greensboro for their 2016-17 season opener, the Virginia Men’s Basketball team held their second annual Pepsi Blue-White Scrimmage at John Paul Jones Arena. Thousands of fans got their first glimpse of a Hoos team that features a lot of new faces.

Head Coach Tony Bennett welcomed fans to the arena with a brief description of the proceedings, explaining the scrimmage would be split into four, ten-minute quarters with a running clock. The fourth quarter, teams would be re-arranged to set up a ‘young vs. old’ matchup.

Here is how the teams were split up for the first three quarters:

Blue: London Perrantes, Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, Jarred Reuter, Jack Salt, Darius Thompson, Trevon Gross Jr., and Jeff Jones

White: Devon Hall, Austin Nichols, Marial Shayok, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter (switched to the Blue after the first half), Isaiah Wilkins, Mamadi Diakite, and Justice Bartley

The teams were pretty well balanced as the score remained close throughout the game, with Blue holding a 27-24 lead at “halftime.” White came away with the 36-33 “win” after three quarters when London’s three-point attempt to tie it went just wide.

For the fourth quarter, Reuter, Diakite, Guy, Jerome, Hunter, and Huff, took on Nichols, Salt, Hall, Shayok, and Thompson (Huff subbed in…it wasn’t six on five). The young guns played well, eking out a 14-9 victory over the olds as Huff iced the victory at the line.

Here are some observations on the scrimmage:

Perrantes is the clear leader. As the lone scholarship senior, everyone already knows he is the default leader on the team, but he is clearly the emotional leader as well. Frequently throughout the warm ups and game, Perrantes would try and pump up the crowd after a big play. He commands the floor and is quick to reach out to players after a play to explain what happened or what should have happened instead. He was much more aggressive offensively than in years past, putting up some incredible plays. At one point, he launched an assist down low to Salt on a pass that can only be described as Beckham-like with the curve he put on it. He also willed a three in after it bounced around several times before dropping.

Although he’s the most senior guy on the team in terms of playing time, Hall also displayed a lot of maturity and leadership for the White squad. He looked confident and assertive, finishing with nine points (unofficially) for the day. Hall and Perrantes will set the tone for this squad, and if today was any indication, the team is in good hands.

Oh, and London dunked again. It was awesome.

Big men for days. Losing Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey obviously hurts, but Wahoo fans should be comforted knowing that Nichols, Diakite, Huff, Reuter, and Salt are there to pick up the slack (and maybe exceed it). According to the Daily Progress’ Andrew Ramspacher’s unofficial stats, Nichols finished with eight points and five rebounds, while Diakite added 10 points, two rebounds, and three blocks. Defensively, Nichols was often left alone do defend his man, and to call Diakite “springy” is to do him a disservice. His vertical ability is unreal, and he has a really nice shooting touch. He also exhibited a lot of range in his offensive game, showing off with a long jumper and hitting a pretty hook shot.

I was REALLY impressed with Jack Salt. In the shoot-around warmups, Salt showed off a smooth shooting touch I hadn’t seen from him before, including a sweet elbow jumper and using the glass to finish outside shots. He is physically impressive, and was much more controlled on both offense and defense. He showed improved decision making on when to drive and when to kick, and finished with five points, two rebounds, and an assist. Salt both executed and escaped the post trap successfully, and his footwork and ball handling skills were vastly improved.

Oh, man Isaiah Wilkins. I was going to include him in the big men section, but Zay was so good he gets his own section. With 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists, he is my MVP of the scrimmage. He showed off a little bit of everything. He kicked off the scoring with a 15-footer, then followed that up the next possession with a put-back on a miss around the basket. His passing was on point and he was strong defensively. My only real complaint in his game was from the free throw line.

The young guns impressed. Incoming first year Guy led all scorers with 13 points, while Jerome had a quietly impressive day with just two points, three rebounds, and three assists. Both were solid defensively, making a couple mistakes, but communicating with teammates well and not falling terribly out of position. I really liked Jerome’s game as he shows a lot of the same characteristics as London. Guy is as good as advertised. He hit a gorgeous three curling off a screen on the move that would make Joe Harris proud, and he has some really good moves to the rack and strong finishing skills. Huff finished with nine points, three rebounds, and a block, and just oozes potential. I still think he may be in line for a redshirt season to put on some mass and get more comfortable with the defense, but he’s plenty capable to play this season. Hunter struggled offensively, finishing with two points (which should have easily been four except he missed a dunk), but he fits in well with the team and the sets. He should see a lot of playing time.

Marial, Hall, and Thompson, oh my! The returning trio brings a lot of experience to the Hoos, and Virginia is going to need big seasons out of all three to be successful in the long run. All three look like they are in incredible shape and played very well defensively. Shayok really impressed with some smart plays while ball handling, including some nifty layups in close. Also, he seems to have really perfected that jumping push floater. Thompson is more athletic than ever, if possible. The highlight of the game came on a drop pass from London to DT on a fast break, leading to Thompson absolutely demolishing Diakite as he slammed home a dunk. That run-and-gun option is alive and well for the Hoos to use as needed.

Scrimmages are hard. Scrimmages create a weird dilemma in rooting when your team is both offense and defense. A shot clock violation brings euphoria, but it’s also your offense that didn’t get a shot off. Overall, I think there is a ton of talent on the team, but there is a lot of meshing defensively still to go. As I mentioned, the physicality of this team might be the best I’ve seen under Tony Bennett with guys like Nichols, Wilkins, and Salt, not to mention how long, lean, and strong Hall, Perrantes, and Shayok are.

One thing is certain: this scrimmage just made me want November 11th to hurry up and get here.

Here are some video highlights: