The Virginia Cavaliers’ basketball team is coming off the first national title in program history and lost three of its most prolific players ever. 2019-20 is a new season. What are your expectations entering the year?
Jay Pierce: There are so many unknowns for this team that this is probably the hardest season to predict under Bennett since his first few seasons. However, it’s easy to expect a few things: a strong defense, an offense that will need to rely on post scoring more than...ever, and a team that plays with significantly more discipline than what we saw in last nights “Preseason Champion Classic” or whatever. I expect a couple of new faces to seriously contribute on both ends (out of both necessity and talent). I expect Braxton Key and Mamadi to anchor another stout defense and Jay Huff to finally get extended consistent minutes. I expect the Hoos to be exceptionally strong at home and too lose a handful of frustrating games on the road. I expect them to challenge for a top 4 seed in the ACC tournament and to push teams around enough to secure another trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Could they win the ACC and make a Final Four run? Absolutely - I just expect something a little less awesome - and look forward to being proved wrong.
Will Campbell: I really have no idea what to expect. I think a No. 10-11 ranking is a bit too high given all they lost and have to replace. That said, at this point, nobody doubts Tony Bennett, Miracle Man. What I do expect is for Jay Huff to finall get to cook to his capabilities and end up as a lottery pick next year. As for the season, with the new 20 game ACC schedule, I would expect them to end up somewhere between 13-7 and 15-5, which probably puts them in the 3rd to 4th range entering the ACC Tournament. As for the NCAA Tournament, they should get dinged on their subpar out of conference schedule, but I dont think it hurts them too much, they end up on the 3 line and finish the year in a Sweet Sixteen. I can’t say that would be a disappointing season and it would set up for a Woah-Nelly expect another title 20-21 season.
Danny Neckel: My expectations are to enjoy a fun, entertaining season with so much less pressure as a fan than before. Now that the UMBC loss has been avenged and a title secured, my expectations are lowered. The team is playing with house money for years, in my opinion. That being said, there are certain benchmarks I expect the team to meet throughout the season. I expect the team to be ranked all year, contend for the upper third of the conference standings, make the NCAA tournament easily (aka not a bubble team), and win a game or two in the big dance. This season reminds me of the 2017 season with a lot of role players needing to step up and unknown new players coming aboard. Will Diakite, Huff, and Key reach their full potential and dominate? Will Clark and Morsell adjust to the further three point line? Lots of unknowns that will be fascinating to see play out during the year as we anticipate the 2020-21 season that could be historic for the Hoos in terms of talent level with Hauser, Beekman, McCorkle, and Abdur-Rahim joining the team.
Paul Wiley: My only expectations are that everyone enjoys some exercise and spirited competition, and makes good friends along the way.
OK not quite, but close. Winning the program’s first-ever national title and losing three-quarters of the program’s best-ever recruiting class to the NBA Draft the same year means I have almost no expectations of specific performance benchmarks in the season that follows. I would characterize the expectations less with regard to this specific team/year, and more to the bare minimums that could be expected even in a down year for a program of Virginia’s current calibre: .500 in the ACC, no out-of-conference loss worse than one to a mid-major (i.e., ok to lose to Vermont, but don’t lose to Navy), and an NCAA Tournament appearance without much Selection Sunday drama. Everything above and beyond that is gravy in my book.
Now someone please bookmark this to remind me when I’m losing my mind over a 1-pt loss at UNC come February.
Ryan Reese: I’ll echo Danny and compare this team to the 2017 squad that lost Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, and Nolte. That season proved for me the new baseline for success by a Tony Bennett coached team. Finish among the top third of the ACC, make the tournament with no stress on Selection Sunday, and have a chance at the second weekend and see what happens from there. That’s easily the floor of this squad. What’s different between this year’s team and the 2017 team is if you told me at the end of the year this team was competing for a number one seed, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s the ceiling with the level of talent on this team. By no means am I expecting it, but if Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite play like lottery picks and if one of the young guards (Casey Morsell, Cody Stattman, or Tomas Woldetensae) can carry a scoring load, there is no reason this team can’t compete among the top teams in the country. Again, I’m not saying it will happen, I just think it’s not as much of a stretch as it would have been to ask London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok, and Darius Thompson to have done the same thing three years ago.