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Future, near and far, looks bright for UVA basketball

uva-basketballEammon Brennan at ESPN has UVA basketball ranked fourth in his latest preseason Top 25, so maybe the conventional wisdom about the Cavs is starting to come around to where it should be.

Before Justin Anderson declared for the NBA Draft, the consensus opinion was that Virginia was the #1 team in the land heading into 2015-2016, but then with Anderson’s pending departure that consensus shifted to putting the ‘Hoos closer to the bottom part of the Top 10.

In reality, UVA will be just fine without Anderson, who was putting up All-America numbers for half a season, but then missed significant time with a broken finger and appendectomy, and wasn’t the same upon his return in March.

In the place of Anderson, coach Tony Bennett has two intriguing options at the three, transfer Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok, who played some key minutes for Virginia as a freshman.

Both are athletic, good basketball players who are more than capable of replacing Anderson’s contributions on the court, the only question being, can either, or anybody else on the roster, account for what Anderson brought to the mix in terms of intangibles?

Time will tell there.

Evan Nolte, like Anderson a four-star recruit in the class of 2012 who hasn’t yet lived up to his billing, is back as well, after filling in as the starter for Anderson during his absence, and also getting valuable minutes as a stretch four.

The biggest challenge will be replacing not Anderson, but Darion Atkins, who stepped in to take the job left open by Akil Mitchell and arguably did it better. Mike Tobey, another four-star recruit from the 2012 class who has not consistently played up to expectations, figures to get more minutes in the post, as does class of 2014 four-star Isaiah Wilkins.

Jack Salt, who redshirted in 2014-2015, is a mystery. The 6’11” Salt looks to be more a pick-and-pop option on offense, the question being his ability to play defense at the four and five in the demanding Pack-Line system.

The only question about Anthony Gill is who gets the minutes alongside him in the post. Pencil him in for30 to 32 minutes a night, assuming he doesn’t get into foul trouble, which is a problem at times for the rising senior.

Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes are the ACC’s best backcourt, with Devon Hall getting minutes backing up Perrantes and maybe also at the two and three depending on rotations.

Replace Atkins in the post, and the 2015-2016 Cavs are going to be just as good as, if not better than, the two most recent teams, each of which posted 30-win campaigns.

So that’s the present, technically the near future, but whatever, it’s what we have in the here and now.

To the future, Bennett loses Brogdon, Gill, Tobey and Nolte next year, with Perrantes entering his senior season in 2016-2017.

It will be up to the next crop of Cavs to carry the torch. To meet that challenge, Bennett has coming in what is currently ranked the top recruiting class in the nation for the class of 2016, though it’s certain that Kentucky and maybe Duke will sign a wave of one-and-dones at the last minute to supplant Virginia from that top spot.

In any case, Virginia will have a haul of talent coming in with five-star power forward Mamadi Diakite, four-star guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome and four-star forward/center Jay Huff.

And that recruiting class doesn’t include Memphis transfer Austin Nichols, a five-star recruit from the class of 2013 who will sit out his transfer year in 2015-2016 and then have two years of eligibility.

Diakite may enroll at UVA in the summer and redshirt in 2015-2016, which would be beneficial in giving him a year to get bigger, stronger and better working out with the veteran-laden ‘Hoos this year, and give him another year to get acclimated to the detailed offensive and defensive schemes that Bennett’s system employs.

Nichols will get a year better as well working every day in practice against Gill and Tobey in the post.

That nucleus – Nichols, Diakite, Guy, Jerome and Huff – along with Perrantes, Thompson, Shayok, Hall and Wilkins – will have Virginia back at the top of the early preseason rankings this time next year, and beyond that, the future is bright.

– Column by Chris Graham