We are ONE WEEK away from the 2017-18 Virginia Basketball season kicking off, so today we are continuing with our preseason countdown by asking our staff their expectations for this year’s Wahoos.
How do you see the season playing out? What record can we expect? Some are (VERY) optimistic, while some of our writers are hesitant. Let’s get to it!
Hobes: I'm about as bull-ish as I've ever been for a UVA team. In my preseason power rankings for STL (SPOILER ALERT), I have UVA ahead of Duke for first place. Remember, we're talking about a team that won 23 games, including one in each postseason tourney (two buzzer-beaters away from 25, and you don't know how much those two wins could have improved their psychology), without Austin Nichols for virtually the entire season or a healthy Isaiah Wilkins for the stretch run. Markedly improved post play from Wilkins, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, and Jay Huff is worth a couple more wins by itself, and they aren't losing much experience at guard with the grad transfer arrival of Nigel Johnson. I'm gonna go crazy and predict 33-6 with an ACC tourney championship and a Final Four berth.
Wiley: I have no earthly idea what to expect this season. Whenever anyone who doesn't follow UVA basketball has asked, I've said, "They're talented, but they're young." Yes, having five players who were top-75 national recruits coming out of high school is a good thing. But also yes, losing an experienced point guard like London Perrantes matters. Best case scenario: Nigel Johnson gives the Hoos quickness off the dribble they haven't had before, Kyle Guy consistently scores in the mid-teens, and Jack Salt makes The Bennett Third-Year Jump. That happens, 24 or 25 wins in the regular season, playing on ACC Tournament Saturday, and making the NCAA Regionals ought to be within grasp. Worst case: Johnson shows defensive liability and doesn't see the floor much, none of the bigs establish themselves as an offensive contributor, and the offense relies on streaky jump shooting to score. Then I'd expect something like 18 to 20 regular-season wins, two more in the ACC Tournament (but only one bye), and an NCAA Tournament that will turn on whether the guys can get hot and stay hot.
Reese: Paul nailed it. The range of outcomes for this team is the largest we've seen since 2014 when this magical run began. This is the most talented team, in terms of recruiting stars, that Tony Bennett has had at Virginia, but it's also the first without a star player. There's no Joe Harris, no Malcolm Brogdon, no London Perrantes. At least, not yet and that's the big question mark. Will someone (or multiple someones) make the leap and become Virginia's next star. There are plenty of candidates. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, and Deandre Hunter all have star potential, but sitting here in early November, that's all it is, potential. I believe given how this team ended last season and who is coming back, being ranked outside the top-25 and around fifth or sixth in the ACC is warranted. But I'm confident this team will make a huge leap. With the vast array of outcomes possible, I believe in Bennett. I believe that he is continuing to stockpile the right type of players who have bought-in to his system and that talent (albeit raw) is at an all-time high in Charlottesville. I predict a top-4 finish in the league, a top-3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and an appearance on Madness' second weekend.
Stats Man Danny: I think UVA will have a bounce-back season this year, after a somewhat down season last year. It shows the good state the program is in that a down season is still ranked the entire year with 11 ACC wins and a win in the NCAA tournament. I foresee Virginia stumbling in a couple non-conference games and going 13-5 in the ACC with a couple postseason wins to finish the season. While this is the most talented team in the Bennett era, they are still young. Experienced players like Hall and Wilkins will lead the way, but the Hoos are still a year away from making a deep run in the tournament.
Tiki: Everybody has kinda already said what I would say. There is so much raw talent on this team, more than Tony has had at Virginia. But, despite the presence of three senior starters (if Nigel starts), there is a ton of youth. There's a lot of depth in the front court, but the wing is actually kinda shallow. Especially if Marco Anthony isn't ready. I agree with Danny, that there's going to be some growing pains during non-conference games as the young guys figure out the defense. I think 12-6 is a reasonable expectation for the ACC. ACC Semis and Sweet Sixteen also seem reasonable.
Pierce: I'm excited to see the collection of front court players hopefully contribute to a lot of the scoring. It's something that we can (hopefully) expect and will be sorely needed to help Guy/Hall/Jerome, etc have some room to shoot from outside. If some of the 2nd and 3rd year guys can make the improvements we've come to expect, the Hoos should be in good shape to contend for a top 4 ACC finish. But, as others already pointed out, there's a lot of unknowns in play to get there. Can the redshirt freshmen live up to the hype the fanbase is putting on them? Will Diakite and Salt show more ability to help on offense? Will the guards be better at keeping guys in front of them and out of the lane and how much will Nigel Johnson help with this? That's a lot of questions to be answered...but there's nothing wrong with being optimistic about it. I think 5th in the ACC is the right expectation with best-case scenario being much higher.
Trogdon: I'm not ready to anoint this team the "most talented" that Tony has had. The 13-14 and 14-15 teams had three NBA players on them. I know the youngsters on this squad are brimming with potential, but it's only potential at this point. I'll feel better once I see evidence of Kyle Guy becoming a reliable scorer, or of Ty Jerome taking the next step, or of Nigel Johnson being a game changer, or of Virginia finding a post scoring option. Until then, we only have a collection of enticing pieces. I think this team will end up being around as successful as last year's team. There are too many unanswered questions for me to be too optimistic.
Darns: Shockingly, I’m not the most optimistic one here! Just kidding...I am most closely aligned with Paul’s take. This team has a ton of upside, but the margin for error is slim. Expect to see the Hoos struggle a bit early, but - as long as everyone stays healthy - hit their stride down the stretch. I think they will finish with 22 or 23 regular season wins and single digit losses. Semifinals of the ACC tournament is doable, and second weekend of the NCAA tournament. This team will have immense success if they defend like they know they can, get production offensively out of the big men, and get consistent points out of some combo of Kyle Guy/Ty Jerome/Nigel Johnson. DeAndre Hunter and Jay Huff will be huge, but give them time to, you know, play some actual college basketball. This team is fun and exciting and I can’t wait to watch.
What’s your take? Leave a comment below!