The Virginia men’s basketball team had a rather uncomplicated formula last season with the shot clock nearing expiration: Just get the ball to London Perrantes and allow him to create. Positive results typically followed.
Therein lies the plight for Coach Tony Bennett entering this year. With Perrantes pursuing an NBA career after four decorated seasons in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers are without an established scorer to complement one of the stingiest defensive outfits in the country.
Compounding matters was the departure of Marial Shayok, who transferred to Iowa State in the offseason. Perrantes and Shayok were Virginia’s first- and second-leading scorers, respectively, last season.
Perrantes was the only player to average at least 10 points a game for Virginia, so for the first time in Bennett’s nine years, the Cavaliers have an opening roster without a double-digit scorer back from the previous season. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cavaliers enter this season, which will begin Friday against UNC Greensboro, unranked in the Associated Press preseason poll for this first time since the 2012-13 season. That was the last time they failed to make the NCAA tournament.
“There’s a newness to this team and an uncertainty with that,” Bennett said. “We lost a lot of quality players and good experience. Short term, that may affect us. I don’t know for sure, but I think what it’s going to do is allow us, it won’t be as difficult [determining] playing time. Guys are going to get thrown into the fire.
“There’s going to be an opportunity to play, and I think that’s going to be good for the long term, but there’s an uncertainty and newness to this team that I haven’t had in a number of years.”
Bennett provided a glimpse as to which players he does plan to lean on for offensive production when he named Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt as team captains. That trio combined to average nearly 23 points per game, with Hall, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, leading the way at 8.4.
Hall, Wilkins and Salt were in the starting lineup when Virginia played an open scrimmage late last month. The other two starters were sophomore Kyle Guy and graduate transfer Nigel Johnson, who is among the more intriguing additions after averaging 11.3 points, including five 20-point performances, for Rutgers last season.
Johnson, a 6-1 guard, indicated Virginia was an ideal fit for him in large part because of the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers (23-11, 11-7 ACC) have earned an NCAA berth in five of the last six years, twice reaching the round of 16 with one appearance in the regional finals over that time.
There also were roster spots available at his position with not only Perrantes gone but also on the heels of guard Darius Thompson, a junior last season, announcing his decision to transfer. Forward Jarred Reuter was the third player to leave the program.
“It’ll come from a bunch of different guys, depending on who’s hot that game, depending on what mismatches we can take advantage of,” Hall said. “I’m going to be extremely aggressive. I know Isaiah is as well just because I think that’s what this team needs and that’s where we’re going to have to score points from.”
In addition to Johnson, the infusion of new players includes DeAndre Hunter and Jay Huff. Both sat out last season as redshirts and were ranked among the top 75 recruits in the country, according to ESPN. Combined with Guy, Ty Jerome and Mamadi Diakite, all sophomores, the Cavaliers have five players among the top 75 recruits for the first time under Bennett.
Jerome is in line to bear much of the responsibility for initiating the offense replacing Perrantes at point guard. Listed at 6-5, 200 pounds, Jerome also supplies more of a physical presence than his predecessor and, similar to Perrantes, has, according to Wilkins, no fear of taking the last shot.
There does, however, remain some doubt regarding Jerome’s health. He recently was in a walking boot that forced him to sit out the scrimmage and had missed most of his senior season in high school following hip surgery.
Bennett has expressed optimism Jerome will be ready to play in the opener on Friday.
“We have some skill, some guys who can stretch it and shoot it, do different things, so we’ll rely on that,” Bennett said. “I’m hoping that it we’ll be a little more balanced this year than perhaps in the past.”
The overhauled roster also has led to the Cavaliers being unranked to start the season. Virginia had been ranked in the previous 63 AP polls dating from Feb. 3, 2014, a streak only Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova have surpassed.
Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the ACC in preseason voting among members of the media.
“I don’t think that there’s just one guy who’s going to come in and give us 15 points every single night, which is scary but cool at the same time,” Wilkins said. “You get to feel it out. This is a brand new team. We lost three guys to transfers. We got a lot of guys in, so we’ll try to figure it out on the fly, and hopefully things come together for us.”
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