The Virginia Cavaliers make their long-awaited return to John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday, November 9 to open their season against the Navy Midshipman at 9 PM on ACCN. This will be the first game for the Cavaliers with fans back in JPJ since the Hoos played Louisville on Senior Day on March 7, 2020.
The Cavaliers open the season ranked 25th in the AP Preseason Top 25 and the Preseason Coaches Poll, marking their fourth straight appearance with a top 25 preseason ranking. The Hoos are also projected to finish 4th in the ACC by the media, receiving a total of 9 out of 81 first-place votes.
The Hoos will hope to build on yet another ACC regular-season championship under Head Coach Tony Bennett. Coach Bennett won his fifth ACC regular-season title last season, which is his third regular-season title in the past four seasons. However, the season ended in a disappointing fashion with a loss to Ohio in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers will have a very different look to them on Tuesday night, as many of the familiar faces of last year’s Cavalier team are gone. The Hoos lost three starters and each of their top three scorers in Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, and Trey Murphy III. Casey Morsell, Justin McKoy, and Jabri Abdur-Rahim all transferred out of the program, while the Hoos also lost Tomas Woldetensae and Austin Kastra to graduation. In total, the Cavaliers lost 75% of their scoring from a year ago and 63% of their total minutes played. As a result, the Cavaliers have many new faces including two transfers and two Freshmen.
In the offseason, the Cavaliers made a big splash in bringing in Senior 6-6 Forward Jayden Gardner and Junior 6-4 Guard Armaan Franklin to UVA. Gardner spent the first three seasons of his college career at East Carolina, where he averaged 18.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 50.1% shooting. His illustrious career at ECU included being selected to the All-AAC First Team twice and being named AAC Player of the Year as a Sophomore. Gardner will be a crucial part of the Cavalier frontcourt, as he brings scoring, rebounding, and a physical style of play to the Hoos. For the Cavaliers to be one of the best teams in the ACC once again this season, Gardner will have to be a reliable scorer for the Hoos. UVA’s other big offseason addition, Armaan Franklin, also will have a big role on the team after spending his last two seasons playing at Indiana. Last season, Franklin started 20 games for the Hoosiers, where he averaged 11.4 points per game on 42.4% shooting from the three-point line. His three-point shooting and defensive ability will be critical for the Cavaliers to have success this season, particularly his shooting. The Cavaliers lost nearly 86% of their three-point scoring and will look to Franklin to help fill that void. Overall, Cavalier fans should expect to see Gardner and Franklin playing significant minutes for the Hoos this season.
In the offseason, the Cavaliers brought in two Freshmen as a part of their 2021 recruiting class. Freshman 6-5 Guard Taine Murray hails from New Zealand and was rated as a four-star recruit and the 86th overall player in the class of 2021. The Cavaliers also brought in Igor Miličić Jr., who signed with the Hoos during the spring. Miličić stands at 6-10 and hails from Rovinj, Croatia. Cavalier fans should expect to see Murray’s outside shooting ability and Miličić’s defensive versatility if the two Freshmen see the floor this season.
As for the returners, the Cavaliers bring back two crucial members of their backcourt from a year ago in Senior 5-10 Guard Kihei Clark and Sophomore 6-3 Guard Reece Beekman. Clark will play a pivotal role as one of the team’s leaders as a result of being a three-year starter and the longest-tenured player on the Hoos’ roster. The Cavaliers will certainly need Clark’s defense, as he has created a reputation for himself as one of the best defenders in the ACC. His defensive reputation and ability to run the UVA offense earned him a spot on the All-ACC Preseason Second Team. The Hoos will also need him to facilitate the offense and improve his three-point shooting from last season. Without Hauser, Huff, or Murphy III, Clark will be relied on more to score than previously in his UVA career. The same can be said for Reece Beekman, as Beekman scored just 4.7 points per game on 24.3% shooting from three last season. The Hoos will need him to make a leap and play a bigger role in the Cavalier offense as a playmaker while maintaining his excellent play on defense. Last year, Beekman was one of UVA’s best defenders, earning him 20 starts in 25 games. The Cavaliers also return two critical pieces of their frontcourt in Sophomore 6-11 Forward Kadin Shedrick and Junior 7-1 Center Francisco Caffaro. Due to illness, Shedrick played in just 11 games last season while playing just 7.8 minutes per game. However, his role will be significantly increased this season, as the Cavaliers will need his toughness and physicality in the frontcourt, traits that the Cavaliers did not necessarily have last season. Francisco Caffaro will also see an uptick in minutes this season after playing just 6.9 minutes per game in 17 games. Like Shedrick, the Cavaliers will need his physicality while rebounding, along with his size on defense. Another returner that Cavalier fans should expect to hear from this season is Senior 6-8 Guard Kody Stattmann. Stattmann is coming off of a season in which he played in just 4 games due to an illness. However, he should also see an increased role, as the Hoos will need his shooting and ability to play on the wing.
Overall, the Cavaliers will look to compete for an ACC title once again. However, in order to accomplish their goals, they will need to improve defensively as a team from last season. Last year, the Hoos’ defense was solid but not quite up to Coach Bennett’s standards of past UVA teams. UVA ranked 36th out of 357 Division I teams in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the worst the Cavaliers have done since the 2011-2012 season. The Cavaliers also gave up 60.5 points per game last season, which is their most given up since the 2010-2011 season. Clark, Beekman, and Franklin should help man the Cavalier defense, as Coach Bennett will likely have one of his best on-ball defensive teams at UVA. There will also be questions about UVA’s scoring due to the loss of so many key players. The Hoos will need to rely on several players to make up for their losses. Gardner, Clark, and Franklin will likely be mainly relied upon to score for UVA’s offense, along with Shedrick and Beekman chipping in.
Cavalier fans should be excited about the upcoming season, as JPJ will certainly be rocking in UVA’s opener on Tuesday night against Navy. UVA’s quest for another ACC title has begun, and the Hoos will look to defend their ACC crown.