For the first time since the 2012-2013 season, the Virginia Men’s Basketball team will enter the season unranked amongst the major polls. The sudden departures of three veteran players, coupled with the loss of star point guard London Perrantes to the NBA, left the state of the program uncertain. With so much turnover, these rankings do not come as a surprise, but they are nonetheless unfamiliar with the recent success of the Tony Bennett era.
Virginia fans should not be concerned, however. Despite not having been ranked outside of the top ten preseasons since 2013, the placement is indicative of the fact that nobody really knows precisely what the Hoos have got this season in terms of personnel. This mystery has led to inconsistency amongst the national media with the AP not assigning a rank, the Coach’s Poll ranking at 27th and KenPom ranking Virginia as high as 9th in the country. There is no consensus, leaving the Cavaliers with everything to prove, and they should be up to the challenge. Here are four reasons to be excited about this upcoming season:
The hallmark of Virginia Basketball in the Tony Bennett era is undoubtedly the signature pack-line defense. Its critics have claimed it to be too slow, but real fans understand its beauty; the true beauty being, of course, is that it works. When the offense has sputtered in recent years, the team has stayed in games with their commitment to a grinding, exhausting defense. They refuse to allow any baskets around the rim, forcing their opponents to beat them over-the-top. They close passing lanes and bring help when a player attempts to drive to the hoop. This style forces the competition into taking the first shot they have, often a bad one, due to the knowledge that they might not get another opportunity. Virginia has done an excellent job recruiting players that fit perfectly into this system. Returning starters Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, and Jack Salt all have a great understanding the pack-line, and with a year of experience under their belts, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Mamadi Diakite figure to execute well. Newcomers De’Andre Hunter and Jay Huff redshirted last year and thus have an entire year of practice with the team, so their transition should be seamless. There is no reason to not expect the Hoos to improve upon a defense that already ranked top two in the nation last season.
TWO: Ty Jerome
Last season was the year of London Perrantes. The lone senior, he ran the point guard position with ease and brought his calm and collected personality to the floor. The offense ran through Perrantes and when they needed a big bucket, he was there to provide it. This year, he passes the torch to sophomore Ty Jerome, and he is more than capable. The 6’5” guard from New Rochelle, New York got off to a slow start last season due to a lingering hip injury, but later in the season became a fan favorite for his court vision and knack for playing big in big moments. He only averaged a little over 4PPG but it’s safe to expect that number to jump significantly up with a substantial increase in playing time. He has an excellent ability to finish around the rim, as well as shooting the ball from distance. He has the keys to the team this season and should be exciting to watch.
THREE: The Bun-less Wonder
To the joy of fans everywhere, Kyle Guy cut his man-bun this offseason, which will undoubtedly affect his performance on the hardwood. Without the unwieldy mass of hair on top of his head, expect his balance to be much improved as well as increased speed due to his infinitely more aerodynamic buzz cut.
Jokes aside, Kyle Guy is a huge reason to be excited about the upcoming season. Man-bun and all, he was a fan favorite with a lethal three-point shooting touch last season, draining five in a single game last season against Grambling State. At one point, he led the ACC in 3pt percentage and became an integral part of the Hoo’s offense. It’s completely reasonable to expect him to get even better this time around. With the departures of three rotational players via transfer, Guy should get a healthy amount of minutes and an opportunity to really showcase his abilities.
FOUR: Jay. Huff.
Since the departure of Anthony Gill in 2016, Virginia has been searching for someone to replace his work on the glass along with his work in the low post. Last season they tried to utilize Jarred Reuter at center when in need of offense, and Jack Salt when lack in defense. Reuter proved to be largely ineffective on the low block and although Salt played solid defense, he had issues late in games with foul trouble. Enter Jay Huff. The 7’1” redshirt freshman center has the potential to fill Anthony Gill’s shoes and then some more. With his length and size, he has the assets necessary to be an excellent rim protector and overall defender. He also possesses a shooting touch uncommon for someone of his size. This should allow to floor to be spaced well, letting slashers like Devon Hall and Ty Jerome get to the rim with ease. Huff has already gone viral on the internet, despite not yet playing a single minute. Last offseason a video was posted of him dunking from the free throw line and since then the hype has only continued to build. After a season of watching highlight reel dunks and impressive outside shooting during team warm-ups, it is finally time for Jay Huff to take the floor. When paired with Salt, Wilkins, and Diakite, Virginia now has a deep and formidable frontcourt to go along with its hot-shooting backcourt.