It’s been awhile since the Virginia Cavaliers were really at the forefront of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but after winning 23 games last year, head coach Tony Bennett looks to have his team ready to be one of the top four teams in the conference and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament this season.
The main reason? Senior guard Joe Harris, who is coming off of a year in which he was named first team All-ACC after leading the Cavaliers with a scoring average of 16.3 points per game. The 6-foot-6, 226-pound shooting guard is one of the most versatile perimeter players in the league, and he’s poised to not only lead the Cavs to the Big Dance, but also challenge for the title of ACC Player of the Year.
Some higher-profile players like Duke freshman Jabari Parker, North Carolina‘s James Michael McAdoo, Syracuse‘s C.J. Fair and Notre Dame‘s Jerian Grant might be higher on preseason lists for the award, but Harris certainly has the credentials to contend, and will undoubtedly put up the necessary numbers.
In addition to his strong scoring average, he also grabbed four rebounds per game while shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc and 46.8 percent overall. His 76 assists on the year were good for third-best on the team, and he was also among the team leaders in steals and blocked shots.
Duke fans should be all too familiar with Harris, who poured in 36 points and grabbed seven boards last season on his way to leading the Hoos to a five-point victory over the Blue Devils in February.
Of course, one of the areas where Virginia will have to improve on both for a chance at making it to March Madness and bolstering the chances for Harris in a Player of the Year campaign will be how they play on the road. Last year, 20 of the team’s 23 victories came at home, and they went just 2-7 on the road in ACC play.
Virginia looks to have a better supporting case this season, but the team’s overall success still lies primarily with Harris, who enters the season with a chance to enter the top-10 in career scoring at UVA. Even if he just duplicates last season’s numbers while helping the Hoos to a few more victories, his resume for ACC Player of the Year will look just about as good as anyone’s.