Thirteen days remain until Virginia Basketball is officially back in our lives. This year, the Hoos will attempt to replace some of the best players in team history. Obviously, that starts with Malcolm Brogdon, who we looked at replacing earlier this week. However hard it will be to replace the skills of Brogdon, replacing the frontcourt production may actually be tougher.
Between Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, the Hoos must replace 20 points, 10 rebounds, and just over a block per game. They also lose two very efficient players who combined to shoot nearly 60% from the field and got to the line a combined six times per game. Furthermore, as Ryan pointed out, there are plenty of veterans remaining on the perimeter for the Hoos. The frontcourt is a different story. Only one player remains from last year who played even 10% of frontcourt minutes. That player, Isaiah Wilkins, scored four points and grabbed four rebounds per game.
Perhaps more important than their numbers is their presence. This is a pair of seniors who had both been a huge part of the resurgence of Virginia Basketball. Mike Tobey was there in 2013 when the Hoos made a run in the NIT. Gill and Tobey were both key contributors in the 2014 ACC Tournament Final win over Duke. They had been through so much with this team, and both were team leaders that helped the younger players get through the season.
Wilkins, of course, should destroy his previous numbers. For one thing, he grew as a player last year, and really increased his offensive game, while keeping up his defensive intensity. For another thing, he’s going to get all the minutes he can handle, because there isn’t anybody ahead of him at PF. Wilkins is a very smart player who can contribute all over the court. However, he doesn’t have the diverse offensive game that Gill has, nor does he have the size and inside touch that Tobey has. Replacing Gill and Tobey is going to be a team effort.
That effort gets a huge boost from a pair of redshirts. Austin Nichols redshirted last year after transferring from Memphis. Nichols, as you may have heard, is pretty good. He was a five star recruit in 2013 and then proceeded to earn American Athletic Conference Rookie of the year in 2013-14. He was first-team All-AAC in 2014-15 when he ranked 3rd nationally in blocked shots (3.4 per game, more than the entire Virginia team last year). He also scored 13.3 ppg as a sophomore, which is pretty close to what Gill scored last year (13.8). Next to Nichols, the Hoos have redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite who was one of the top recruits in the nation for 2015. He’s 6’9” and has tremendous athleticism. He’s still raw, especially offensively, but he’s going to be a beast defensively and on the glass.
With those three guys, we’ve very likely more than made up for the on-court production of Gill and Tobey. We’re also going to see increased minutes from Jarred Reuter and perhaps Jack Salt. The total frontcourt production should actually increase this year, because there is so much more depth there.
Making up the 20 points and 10 rebounds per game is (hopefully) easy. Making up the locker room presence and the leadership is much tougher. Again, Wilkins will help. He’s been around for 2 years already and he seems ready to be more of an on-court leader. But the majority of the team leadership is going to come from the backcourt. That’s where the most experienced players reside. It begins with London Perrantes, who has already begun to make this his team, both on the floor and in the locker room. He and Devon Hall are going to be counted on the most to step up their leadership in the absence of Gill and Tobey (and Brogdon).