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Something feels familiar with this Virginia basketball team

uva basketballThe 2017-2018 Virginia basketball team is feeling to me like the group from 2013-2014.

That group came in off a 23-12 finish overall and 11 wins in the ACC, somehow not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament with those totals, by the way.

There was a senior presence in the backcourt in the form of Joe Harris, a couple of guys who had redshirted the year before, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, a sophomore athlete in Justin Anderson, and a freshman point guard named London Perrantes.

Harris had put up nice numbers the season before, but the rest of the bunch was long on potential, and otherwise short on results at the college level.

This year’s ‘Hoos are coming off a 23-11 season that included 11 wins in the ACC, and a second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Perrantes, the only player to average double-digits in scoring last year, is in the NBA, along with Harris, Anderson and Brogdon, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.


There is obvious talent in the locker room, arguably as much as Virginia coach Tony Bennett has ever had, though we won’t be able to judge that for a while.

The 2017-2018 Cavs undoubtedly have more senior leadership than the 2013-2014 team, with two returning senior starters, Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, and graduate transfer Nigel Johnson, the only player on the roster to average double-digits in scoring last season, in his case at Rutgers.

There’s a sophomore point guard, Ty Jerome, alongside classmate Kyle Guy, a McDonald’s All-American.

And two more guys, Jay Huff, a 7’1” shot-blocking wing, and De’Andre Hunter, a 6’7” bruising two-guard, who both redshirted last year.

Throw in another physical guard, the 6’4”, 222-pound Marco Anthony, a true freshman, along with the athletic 6’9” forward Mamadi Diakite, a redshirt sophomore, and muscular 6’10” center Jack Salt, a redshirt junior, and you’re 10 deep with the talent.

Like that 2013-2014 team, though, it’s going to take this group some time to gel.

Perrantes was the primary ball-handler a year ago, and was largely the guy looked to in late-game situations to create offensively.

This group is going to need to figure out who creates late-game and who takes the big shots, after having had the likes of Harris, Brogdon and Perrantes to lean on the past four years.

Maybe it will be Hall, who you forget was the more highly-regarded point-guard recruit in the class that included Perrantes five years ago, and has become a key glue guy for Bennett the past couple of years.

Jerome took some big shots the second half of his freshman season. Guy drained what should have been a game-winning three at home against Florida State in January before Dwayne Bacon broke hearts with a buzzer-beater.

Johnson, who played at Kansas State before his year at Rutgers, became a go-to scorer for the Scarlet Knights down the stretch last year.

Huff, with his length, and ability to shoot the three and score off the dribble at 7’1”, could be expected to grow into that role over time.

It will take some time for things to sort themselves out, as it did, again, for the 2013-2014 team, which you may remember was just 9-4 at the end of the calendar year 2013, with a bad, bad loss at Tennessee sending that team into ACC play on the lowest of lows.

And then things sorted themselves out. Perrantes was given the reins of the team at the point, alongside Brogdon and Harris in the three-man backcourt, and Anderson coming off the bench, and it started to fall into place from there, with Gill figuring out the Pack Line after the New Year and breaking out of his shell on the offensive end thereafter.

The key difference between the two teams is the Gill factor. I’m not seeing, yet, anyone on this year’s team that has the ability to score consistently in the paint the way Gill could.

Huff is more a threat from the perimeter and on dribble-drives. Wilkins has a nice spot-up jumper, but otherwise gets his points on stickbacks.

Diakite has three-point range on the jumper, but his release is a bit slow, and he hasn’t shown the ability to put the ball on the floor to get to the rim, despite his athleticism.

Salt is … Salt. Bennett loves Salt being on the floor for his physical presence, but on offense he’s on the floor mainly to set screens, and isn’t a danger to score when the defense cheats off him.

The deficiencies in post scoring were well-documented a year ago, but were also probably overstated because the best offensive players on the 2016-2017 team – Perrantes and Marial Shayok – are ball-dominant guards whose effectiveness varied from game to game and often from half to half.

Assuming the backcourt guys can mesh, there’s a tremendous amount of firepower both from the perimeter and on dribble-drives from the 1, 2 and 3.

If Huff can earn 24-28 minutes a game of playing time at the 4 alongside Wilkins, this UVA team will approach the offensive efficiency levels that the core of Brogdon-Gill-Perrantes put up between 2013-2016, when the ‘Hoos were KenPom.com Adjusted Offense darlings.

Just … be patient. As with the 2013-2014 team, this year’s schedule has some road bumps early, VCU and Wisconsin in November, at West Virginia in December, UNC at home in early January.

There might be an ugly L or two in the first half of the season. By mid-January, though, this team will be grooving.

And I’m going to repeat this until you get sick of reading it: the ceiling is Final Four.

Column by Chris Graham

  • John DeMuro

    I hope you’re right. Going into the season without a guy who has been “the guy” (including Kyle Guy) adds to the uncertainty.