They say slow and steady wins the race. It also makes for somewhat boring basketball. However, the Virginia Cavaliers don’t care what people think.
Fifth year head coach Tony Bennett has employed a slow-down style of basketball in Charlottesville, and the 24th-ranked Cavaliers will play the same way this year. The only difference is that this is the most talented Bennett has had since his arrival.
The Cavaliers are led by All-ACC guard Joe Harris. The senior from Chelan, Washington is one of the most talented guards in the country. He can score the ball from all over the floor and was very good from 3-point land last season, shooting 42.5 percent. He will once again be the guy that Virginia goes to for big baskets and points throughout the season.
Harris is not there most important player going into the 2013-14 season though, because you know what you are getting with him. Their most important player is Akil Mitchell. The 6-foot-9 senior forward has the potential to be one of the best bigs in the ACC. Last season, he averaged 13.1 points per game to go along with nearly nine rebounds.
He was arguably their most important player last season. He was their best defender with a defensive rating of 85.5, led the team in win shares and was their best rebounder according to College Basketball Sports Reference. If he can take that next step as a player, Virginia becomes a team you do not want to play.
This team is not just Harris and Mitchell, though. They return their top-five scorers from last season. Forward Justin Anderson, who started 17 games last season as a highly-touted freshman, is a player that could take that freshman-to-sophomore leap and become one of the most explosive guards and defenders in the ACC.
Center Mike Tobey had a valuable experience playing with Team USA at the U-19 World Championships this summer, and will look to build on his 6.9 points per game and 2.9 rebounds in 14 min per game as a freshman. Being 6-foot-11 and only grabbing three rebounds per game is concerning, but having one more year of experience and strength should make Tobey a factor on both ends of the floor.
Two players who saw no action last season that will have a significant impact this season for the Cavaliers are Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon. Gill transferred from South Carolina and had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. He started as a freshman at SC and was reportedly a tough matchup in practice last season. He brings more size and athleticism to a talented frontcourt.
Brogdon should be a familiar name to Cavalier fans. He was a very productive bench player for UVA two seasons ago. As a freshman, he averaged 6.7 points per game off the bench. He injured his foot at the end of the 2011-12 season and was forced to have surgery, which made him miss last season. He is 100 percent by all accounts and will be a big guard that can help them in many ways.
Tony Bennett’s ball club may be extremely talented, but they are still going to play a grit n’ grind style. They are going to be involved in a lot of games in the 50s. They will be very good defensively again this season. Last year, they gave up 55.6 points per game, which was fifth best in the nation. However, they only averaged 64.2 points per game, 257th in the nation.
With a roster with this much talent, I think Bennett should open the gates up for them a little. Regardless of how they play, this team will be in the top tier of the ACC this season.
I love this team on paper. Harris and Mitchell will be one of the best duos in the ACC and Anderson is destined for a big year. I get why Bennett loves to slow the game down and play defense, but this team is too talented to score in the low 60s and rely so much on defense this year. They will finish sixth in the ACC, and will be a bubble team throughout the year that ultimately makes the NCAA tournament.