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From the Rafters: Basketball is Back

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The good, the bad, and what to watch for as we embark on the 2016-2017 basketball season...From the Rafters.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Hampton vs Virginia Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With 17 days left until tip off, it’s time to take a look at the upcoming season “From the Rafters.” For those who need a little refresher, From the Rafters is a weekly look at the good, the bad, and what to watch for in the week ahead in the world of UVA basketball. The key to remember is that I am just a guy. I can’t dribble a ball to save my life, I have a decent shot (when I have time to warm up), and the most value I can bring to a pickup game is that I have a high motor (that’s a nice way to say I’m usually just in better shape than the people I play against). So this is a layman’s look at the game, from a fan who loves UVA basketball. So without further ado, here’s the good, the bad, and what to watch as we enter the 2016-107 season...From the Rafters.

The Good

  1. London’s Team - Malcolm Brogdon has moved on to the NBA and while that certainly doesn’t belong in the good category (great for him, not great for the UVA basketball team), it now provides London Perrantes a chance to take the reins. The fourth year point guard enters his final season as a Cavalier and is almost a shoe-in to leave as the all-time winningest player in Cavalier history. He’s coming off a career year, averaging 11 points per game and boasting a three point percentage of 48%. You can probably expect his scoring to go up, though his three point percentage will probably go down. But, where I expect him to fill in Brogdon’s shoes is his leadership. Always known for his “Cali-cool” persona, Perrantes easily becomes the leader of this team. Coach Bennett confirmed it, reiterating that he loves having a player who is a coach on the floor, and Perrantes, like Brogdon before him, will be that guy. While he seems laid back though, don’t think for a minute he will lead this team with a “yawn.” Perrantes has shown himself to be one of the most passionate players in this program, and I expect that to be on full display this season.
  2. Experience - If I told you a team was returning three of five starters from an Elite Eight team and adding a player playing his third year of college basketball, the first two of which were good enough to garner all-conference honors in a top-six league, you’d bet that team was in the conversation for the #1 spot in the country. However, when one of those losses is a consensus All-American, it can be easy to see that many have questions about the experience of this team. But, anyone who knows Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers knows that experience is nothing to scoff at. Not only have the returners gotten starting experience, but Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Marial Shayok are all in at least their third year in the program while Austin Nichols and Mamadi Diakite have benefitted from a redshirt season. That experience is crucial in learning the pack line defense, and years in Mike Curtis’ strength and conditioning program turn boys into men, a fact that makes Virginia one of the most physically difficult teams to play in the country. While the team is short on star power, don’t underestimate their experience.
  3. The Newcomers - I’m not one to get caught up in recruiting hype, and I truly believe in the point above that the season starts with a much more seasoned starting lineup. But, it’s hard to ignore the recruiting haul Coach Bennett brought to Charlottesville this year. Beginning with Kyle Guy, the Hoos have their first McDonalds All-American since Sylven Landesberg in 2008 and a legitimate superstar on their hands. He can shoot, he’s got athleticism, and he can handle the offense. While this is a blanket statement for all the players new to the system, but his ability to grasp the defense may be what determines how soon he gets on the floor. In Ty Jerome, the Cavaliers have their point guard of the future. He’s coming off hip surgery which ended his Senior season of High School early, so that may limit his early season playing time, but it was a good sign that he played on the trip to Spain. De’Andre Hunter might the best of the bunch. The 6-7 guard out of Philadelphia came on late to the recruiting scene, but is already drawing comparisons to Cavalier great Chris Williams. If that’s the case then, watch out. Finally, there’s Jay Huff. Another latecomer to the recruiting scene, Bennett was able to pluck the 6-11 forward right out of Duke’s shadow in Durham. He comes in at 215 lbs, so he may need some time with Mike Curtis, but perhaps not. He’s a a stretch four who isn’t going to be looked upon to bang down low given the presence of Nichols and Wilkins, so he could see some time on the floor right away as he gives the Hoos an offensive threat that has size to create major mismatches.

The Bad

  1. The Schedule - “Try to survive.” Those were the words Coach Bennett spoke when asked about this year’s schedule, and he isn’t kidding. Just by virtue of playing in the ACC, UVA is going to play a difficult schedule, but this year is just ridiculous. Non-conference games against 2016 tournament teams include home dates against Yale and West Virginia, neutral games against Iowa and perhaps Providence, and a trip to Cal to face the Bears. Oh yeah, and then there’s a little visit to Philadelphia to take on the defending champion Villanova Wildcats. And that’s just the non-conference. In addition to home and homes with Louisville and upstart Virginia Tech, the Hoos have to go on the road for match ups with Syracuse and North Carolina (who will also make the return trip to Charlottesville). They do get the benefit of Duke visiting John Paul Jones, but Virginia fans all know that Grayson Allen and the Blue Devils travel well. It’s not an impossible schedule, and it will ensure the Hoos are battle tested by March, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say 30-0 isn’t going to happen.

What to Watch For

  1. Early Season Rotations - As is always the case with Tony Bennett, the early part of the season is used to determine rotations and player combinations. Sometime these decisions will make you go hmm. Also remember that defense is first priority. Bennett has already come out and said the freshmen are struggling a bit picking up the defense, so look for coach to bring them along slowly. While you can bank on Perrantes, Nichols, and Wilkins as starters on day one, you can anticipate Hall and Shayok to get significant time early. Diakite, Jack Salt, and Jarred Reuter figure to be the first off the bench in the front court, while Guy and Darius Thompson figure to get some run when the Hoos go small. The beauty of Bennett’s roster construction is that nobody has defined positions in the traditional sense, so you could see any number of combinations on the floor at the same time. Consider an all offense lineup of Perrantes, Shayok, Guy, Nichols, and Huff to stretch the defense like Gumby. Or try scoring on Hall, Shayok, Wilkins, Nichols, and Diakite. While the team will certainly miss Brogdon and Anthony Gill, the depth on this team is on a whole new level.
  2. The Breakout - Last season, in our staff predictions article, I picked Devon Hall as my surprise player / breakout. While he had some moments and even cracked the starting lineup, the production wasn’t quite there. I’m doubling down and picking him again this year. The same things that I said last year, I like his ability to get to the rim and handle the ball to spell Perrantes, still apply. But this year I like him to become more of a scorer. He should be able to take up some of the usage lost by the departure of Brogdon. While his usage stats and advanced metrics don’t suggest a breakout (check out Marial Shayok for a stat sleeper), this is a player who has drawn praise his entire career for his work ethic. He’s taking over as a leader along side Perrantes, and I expect that to translate to the floor. While I certainly don’t expect the same numbers, I do expect to see Hall fill the role of Brogdon on the offense. He’ll be the secondary ball handler behind Perrantes and someone will have to assist when Perrantes fires a three. Plus he’s shown that he’s not afraid to go to the rim, so expect to see him drive to make things happen. Given the depth and potential star power, you could make a case for any number of players to break out, but for me it’s the guy most likely to fill Brogdon’s spot on the floor, and that’s Devon Hall.

November 11th can’t get here fast enough. The Hoos tip off against UNC-Greensboro from the Greensboro Coliseum. In the meantime, stay with Streaking the Lawn for all of your basketball coverage and feel free to leave a comment with your good, your bad, and what you’re watching for.