It's been a rough few days for Wahoo fans since UVA fell 60-54 to Michigan State, ending their season in the Round of 32. Like last year's squad, Virginia compiled a 16-2 ACC record, won the regular season title, but ran into Tom Izzo in March...a recipe for a disappointing end to the year.
That paragraph was actually almost exactly what I wrote about one year ago, before going on to look toward this year. My conclusion, one year ago:
Overall, as we look ahead to next season, the Hoos probably won't be as dominant as this past year, but fans could reasonably hope to once again compete in the upper third of the ACC, and clinch a second-consecutive NCAA berth. And...I hate to jump to far ahead of ourselves...but in 2015-2016, when UVA could feature a roster of 6 seniors if (a BIG "if") attrition holds off...look out.
And here we are. We easily surpassed my (and anyone's) predictions for this year; at its best, 2014-2015 Virginia was an even better team than the 2013-2014 edition, but it peaked at the wrong time, as a combination of injuries, a bad draw, and a bad game ended a successful season with an unsuccessful postseason.
Luckily, we have lots to look forward to. Unluckily, that's almost 8 months away. But that's still not too early to think ahead...
2015-2016 Virginia Cavaliers Projected Starters:
London Perrantes (6-2 Jr.): Last year's "cool for a freshman" London Perrantes continued to develop into a PG that was still "cool for a sophomore." The junior edition of London Perrantes promises to feature more of the same - high assists, low turnovers, and Cali swag. Shooting-wise, Perrantes experienced a drop-off in three-point shooting (44% to 32%), that I'd hope would rebound, as well as an up-tick in aggression, especially late in the year, that I expect to continue.
Malcolm Brogdon (6-5 Sr.): If you need any reason for optimism next year, it's another season of Malcolm Brogdon, a lock-down defender and clutch shooter who will get to the rim and the free-throw line, sometimes at will. The Malcolm of the UNC (2nd half) and Belmont (1st half) games this year are just what UVA needs more of - someone who can takeover a game offensively.
Justin Anderson (6-6 Sr.): Fingers crossed. Justin had no interest in discussing his future after Sunday's game, and rightfully so. Anderson's a future NBA player that has to decide whether its in his best interest to declare for the NBA Draft now (where he's generally projected as a late-first/early-second round pick) or finish his college career at Virginia. There's a lot at stake, so he should take his time, learn more about his prospects, and make the best decision for him. I think I speak for most Wahoo fans in saying that I hope he returns, but will be supporting him either way.
Anthony Gill (6-8 Sr.): Anthony Gill quietly finished the year ranked in the top 10 in KenPom's "kPOY" standings, as he made a team-high 58% of his 2s, got to the line at a team-high 67% clip, and used a team-high 25% of possessions while in the game, while pulling in a team-high 15.5% of offensive boards. Even more exciting for next season has been Gill's continued defensive development, where he'll have to work to fill Darion Atkins's shoes.
Mike Tobey (6-11 Sr.): Big Mike Tobey's 2015 showed a flash or two of the aggression that Wahoo fans were hoping for...but the season is made up of thousands of "flashes," and that kind of continued intensity is what Virginia is going to need from their 6'-11" big man. Remember, while Tobey just couldn't seem to put it all together (on both sides of the ball), his shooting and rebounding numbers were still higher than Darion's somehow - hope remains for the dominant senior season we've been looking for.
Bench (roughly listed in order of my estimation of playing time, new additions in italics):
Isaiah Wilkins (6-8, So.): With a year of experience under his belt and a replacement for Darion Atkins needed, Wilkins should slide neatly into the role as third big.
Darius Thompson (6-5, So).: His quickness and slashing ability could give him the opportunity to immediately impact the lineup. (In an Anderson-less world, that last starting spot would come down to Thompson, Nolte, and Shayok, and Thompson may have an edge as more of a two-guard that could allow Brogdon to play the three.)
Evan Nolte (6-8, Sr.): Virginia could have used a three-point marksman this season, but Nolte, who generally filled in admirably in Anderson's absence, definitely wasn't that guy. He shot 28% from behind the arc this year, a decline from 33% his sophomore year and a promising 39% as a freshman. Maybe he'll return to form with a fresh slate ahead of him.
Marial Shayok (6-5 So.): Shayok's another guy who gains on an Anderson-less team, as he showed flashes of the ability to drive to the basket, and to create his own shot.
Devon Hall (6-5 So.): Hall looked pretty good in his limited opportunities offensively...but he was largely stuck on the outside of the rotation. He'll need to improve his ball-handling and defense; meaningful minutes may still be a year away with the cast of returners Virginia has, but I'd like to see him get more chances next season.
Jack Salt (6-10, Fr.): The giant from down-under will make his long-awaited UVA debut. Salt's transition to the college game may not be immediate, but reports are he has the physicality to matchup right away.
BJ Stith (6-5, Fr.): With UVA possibly retaining all of its wings, and even adding one, it looks like another potentially quiet year for Stith. With the impending graduation of Anderson, Brogdon, and Nolte, there is playing time in his future; but it'll take another year.
Jarred Reuter (6-8, Fr.): We graduate one big man and add two - someone's gotta be the odd man out here, and I'll take a premature guess it's the new kid on the block. I'd prematurely guess that Salt, who has a redshirt year under his belt, has the inside track to 4th in the frontcourt (not counting Nolte), but Reuter, who is noted as a great passing big man, gets some limited minutes too.
Sky-high. If Justin Anderson returns, Virginia is a sure-fire top-five preseason team, and without him, they'll be in the mix as well. This past season, ridiculously successful by regular season standards (I know, I know), was supposed to be a "bridge year" of sorts to a year with a potentially all-upperclassman starting lineup. There's no reason why Virginia shouldn't be competing for an ACC Title, #1 seed, and an NCAA title again.
There are some questions to answer. Defensively, Virginia leaned on Akil Mitchell 2 years ago and Darion Atkins this past year. Who will be the next defensive stopper? Wilkins may be a year or two away from "Akil territory" and Tobey just hasn't shown those types of instincts. Anthony Gill has made major strides defensively, but would need to make another giant one to fill those shoes. On offense, UVA needs shooters to step up, especially if Justin Anderson leaves. Anderson was able to double his three-point shooting percentage last season. If Brogdon, Perrantes, or anyone felt like duplicating that effort, well, that would be nice.
Another thing - there hasn't been a season in the Tony Bennett era (and even stretching prior) that didn't feature a transfer. Maybe this year breaks the streak. But it's always a possibility.
Seven months and change 'til UVA hoops is back!