TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY, we will have Virginia Basketball back in our lives (and hopefully still be celebrating our recently bowl eligible football team). The Hoos tip off against UNC-Greensboro at John Paul Jones Arena on November 10, and we’re continuing in our countdown to the season with tons of coverage. Today, let’s look at who you may see on the court as we predict the Virginia starting lineup, plus one.
[Disclaimer: I know Tony Bennett will set the lineup and do what he wants no matter what I say, but these things are fun to talk about and discuss]
Jack Salt - Sorry, haters. Salt isn’t going anywhere. He averaged 18.4 minutes last season and started all 34 games, averaging 3.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Salt shot an impressive 55.9% from the field (the best of any returning player), and chipped in 22 blocks (third on the team last year). He’s without question the best screen-setter on the team and is very good defensively. Jack definitely needs to work on being more of an offensive scoring threat in the post and more aggressive down low (but not foul-wise, please don’t foul - 5.6 per 40 minutes last year).
Isaiah Wilkins - The most elite glue guy in the history of glue guys (don’t care what Jon Rothstein says). Zay is the heart of this team and brings energy to both ends of the court. He will need to step it up offensively this season as well. Wilkins and Salt (along with big man Mamadi Diakite) were classified as “limited role” last season by KenPom, meaning they were used in 12-16% of possessions. You can’t have that from your post players...puts too much pressure on the backcourt to make jumpers for your sole point production. Wilkins averaged 6.8 points and a team-best six rebounds per game and shot 55.6% from the field (including 4-for-7 from three!).
Devon Hall - No one exemplifies team player and waiting for your moment like fifth-year senior Devon Hall. Now, he’s a captain (along with the other two ‘guarantees’) and is ready to shine. Hall redshirted his first season with the Hoos and has done whatever Tony Bennett has needed from him over the course of his career. Need a shooter? Sure, Devon’s on it. Oh, want to run small ball? No problem, Devon can be a four or five and bang down low for you. Need a ball-handler? He’s got you. This season will be interesting to see how Devon is used. He legitimately can do all of the things listed, and well. Most likely, Hall will run the two with Ty Jerome or Nigel Johnson running point. Bonus: he’s Virginia’s best on-ball defender, too.
Two of these three will start...but which two?
Ty Jerome - Ty didn’t play in last Sunday’s Pepsi Blue-White Scrimmage due to a lingering foot injury, but we’re told he will be ready to roll for the season. Will Coach Bennett hold him out to start? Unknown. What we do know is that this is “his” team...London Perrantes has turned the keys to the offense over to Jerome as the appointed point guard of the future. Last season, Jerome played just under 14 minutes per game, averaging 4.3 points per game. That’s not a lot, but he showed flashes of brilliance (at Notre Dame, at Villanova) that should comfort Wahoo fans. Expectations are high for a strong first-to-second-year jump for the youngster.
Kyle Guy - New season, new Kyle, new hair. The “Guy-bun” is gone (Mom rejoices) and Kyle looks ready for that same aforementioned jump from first to second year. In his first year, Guy played 18.6 minutes per game and averaged 7.5 points per game, shooting 49.5% from three (that’s very good). During last Sunday’s scrimmage, Guy scored a game-high 25 points (unofficially). Yes, it’s a scrimmage. No, you shouldn’t put a lot of stock into what happens in an inter-squad scrimmage. Yes, I’m still excited about what I saw. Guy was much more aggressive offensively, scoring in a variety of ways. His shot looked silky-smooth and he is physically much stronger. Defense was his weak spot last season, so improvement on the defensive end will help him solidify his case for a starting spot. Virginia doesn’t have a double-digit scorer returning for the first time in Bennett’s tenure. Guy looks like the guy (lol) that can step up and score in bunches.
Nigel Johnson - Johnson is Virginia’s first graduate transfer under Bennett. He averaged 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and two assists last season at Rutgers and looked impressive in the scrimmage with 21 points (unofficially). Johnson brings speed and ball handling to the Wahoos, and it’s clear Coach Bennett is willing to let him run the ball on a fast break (SHHHH - DON’T TELL). As is the case with everyone on the team, your playing time is directly related to your ability to play defense, so the biggest question mark for Nigel’s early playing time is how comfortable he feels on that end of the court.
You will see a lot of the two redshirt first years - Jay Huff and DeAndre Hunter - this season. Not to beat a dead horse, but defense will dictate how much how early, but both bring a dynamic something to the court. Huff, our 7-1 HOO-nicorn, can stretch the floor and shoot a three (as seen in the scrimmage), or post up down low. Hunter has been operating as a three or four in practice and can shoot or take the ball into the lane. At ACC Media Day this past week, Wilkins said that the name to know for the Hoos this year is Hunter...that’s high praise. Mamadi Diakite also figures to get on the court and will be essential as a shot-blocking master and as a post-player.
I’m going with Jerome, Hall, Guy, Wilkins, Salt as my starting five and Johnson/Huff first off the bench depending on the position. You will see a lot of Hunter and Diakite, too. This is the deepest bench Bennett has had, so playing time will be tough to organize. It’s the best problem to have.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below!