A year after Virginia’s heartbreaking 68-62 loss to Syracuse in the elite eight of the NCAA Tournament as a number 1 seed, Tony Bennet and company are looking to replicate such success with an unfamiliar cast. After finishing the season ranked number 5 in USA Today Coaches Poll with a 29-8 record, along with second place in the ACC, Virginia is going to rely heavily on their new recruits.
Senior London Perrantes is the only returning player to average more than 5 points per game and he will be called upon to lead this dangerous, young squad. Having already been named to the preseason All-ACC first team, Perrantes knows what it takes to be competitive in an extremely deep ACC conference. As a freshman, Perrantes played an integral role in Virginia winning its first ACC Championship since 1976. This past year, they narrowly lost to UNC in the ACC Championship game by four points. With all of Perrantes’ experience, he knows that the newcomers will not hamper Virginia’s hopes at competing for a national title.
“When I got here, we were trying to find a way to win, to be a top team in the conference,” Perrantes said during ACC media day. “Once we found that way, I feel like we’ve just been reloading ever since,”
The problem that Perrantes found was not integrating the new players into the level of college basketball, rather getting them all a sufficient number of minutes.
“We have a lot of young guys…we’re a pretty deep team this year it will definitely be tough for coach Bennet to find some minutes for everybody”
These “young guys” include a bevy of talented freshman such as Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome; all of whom were in high school last year. Additionally, there are two others who practiced with the team last year but sat out games: redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite and redshirt junior Austin Nichols. Nichols, a transfer from Memphis, was previously a top-25 national recruit. Nichols along with the other freshman look to make an impact right away.
All these additions can be difficult for a team to manage but Perrantes explains, “We have a lot of pieces and I feel like we definitely have a different scene. But we have a skilled team, as well.”
These additions may partly be the reason that Virginia saw its post-season ranking drop from number 5 to its current number 7 pre-season ranking.
Although, Perrantes is “not necessarily worried about preseason stuff.”
Coach Bennett has similar sentiments.
“That ranking is based obviously on the success that the last three years have brought, and there’s some pieces, but it’s preseason stuff,” Bennett said.
Bennett who has been the coach of Virginia for the past eight season has complied an impressive 165-72 record, with four trips to the NCAA Tournament and one NIT bid. He expects this dominance to continue onto this season as long as the new players are instilled with the same relentless mentality.
“It’s their time,” Bennett said, “I think there’s an eagerness or an excitement for the opportunity…these other guys who have been in a supplemental role, I think they are really excited for the opportunity to have it be their team and have a bigger role.”
Junior Isaiah Wilkins is one of those players that is looking for a greater role. Wilkins saw his minutes’ increase from 9.4 in the 2014-2015 season to 21.4 in the 2015-2016 campaign.
“I expect us to go out and play hard every game…as far as preseason rankings go I don’t think we’re really worried about that… but I do have to set up as far as being a leader,” Wilkins said.
The 2016-2017 UVa basketball season opens this Friday at UNC Greensboro.