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THE BIG COUNTDOWN: Predicting the starting lineup

Which five Cavaliers are likely to take the floor on opening night at Syracuse?

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As you certainly know, the Virginia Basketball team will look very different this year. Gone are a combined 142 starts from last season (out of a total of 190). Almost 60% of the team’s minutes must be replaced, along with almost 70% of the scoring.

The most common starting five for the Hoos last year was Kihei Clark, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Jack Salt. Four of those guys are gone. By the end of the season, Mamadi Diakite had replaced Salt in the starting lineup, but that still leaves three spots to replace.

That lineup includes a PG, three wings and a big. Yes, Ty Jerome is a PG, but only one of he and Kihei were running the offense at a time, and defensively, Jerome was usually guarding a wing. That does not mean the lineup will be the same this year. At times in his tenure, Tony has started two bigs (Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins, for example). And that appears to be the case this year.

There are three givens: Clark, Diakite and Braxton Key. That’s PG, a big, and a wing. Key is actually listed on the official roster as a guard. Remember, Key led the team in last year. Let’s take a quick look at those three.

Kihei Clark

After starting 20 games as a true freshman, it’d be shocking if Kihei Clark isn’t in the starting lineup this year. He’s going to have to do more, to include running the offense, scoring, and being a team leader. He’s the only natural PG on the roster.

Mamadi Diakite

Diakite might be the best player on the team. He’s got a chance to move into 2nd all-time in blocks for the Hoos (he’s currently 30 behind Chris Alexander). He could be the first player to have more career blocks than Ralph Sampson had as a freshman (41 behind). He also showed off a new and improved three point shot, draining three in the Blue-White scrimmage.

Braxton Key

Of the three definite starters, Key is the least certain. He’s definitely starting right now, but he played so well off the bench last year that he may step back into that role as the season progresses.

Based on the Blue-White scrimmage and reports from other scrimmages, it seems like the additional two starters will be Jay Huff and Kody Stattman. That’s a big and a wing. It actually sets up nicely as a “traditional” lineup:

PG: Clark
SG: Stattman
SF: Key
PF: Huff
C: Diakite

That’s pretty rare in college basketball these days. Most teams are going with three or even four guards/wings as their base rotation. College basketball has become a guards game. Sixteen of the top 20 scorers in NCAA last year were guards (or wings). In the ACC, only Boston College, Notre Dame, Duke and Florida State regularly started two bigs (UNC as well if you count Luke Maye as a big).

Nobody is surprised that Huff moves into the starting lineup. He was seventh in minutes played last year. But Stattmann is surprising. He played just 73 minutes all season, 10th on the team. He was an afterthought. But this team needs shooting, and Stattmann is a shooter. Never mind that he was just 4/15 last year and shot just 22% in the FIBA U-19 World Cup. He’s a shooter.

There’s a good chance that Tony changes up the starting lineup at some point this year. A couple of other guys who could start are Casey Morsell and Tomas Woldentensae. Maybe Tony will want to matchup against a specific opponent. Maybe there’ll be an injury. Or maybe he just changes his mind. What’s really more important is who is finishing games anyway.

Virginia heads to Syracuse to open the 2019-20 season on November 6. The game will be televised on the ACC Network and tips off at 9pm.