The Virginia Cavaliers are the last team to win the National Championship because of the way last season ended. They did not look like a championship contender this past season due in part to their struggles on offense. We’ll take a look at what to expect from Virginia next season.
Defending National Champions by Default
It might seem strange to call Virginia the defending national champions but it’s what they are. Until someone else wins it, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since they did it, it matters that they were the last to do it. This season, it would appear that they will get their chance at defending their title. This team still has the same ingredients from the championship run but they went ahead and retooled on the offensive end which means we should see a much improved team this last.
It’s not that last year was a disaster, finishing the year 16 in the polls. There were some serious struggles along the way, with a stretch in the middle of the season where they went 5-6 and were out of the AP Top 25 for most of January and all of February. They were able to bounce back from that going 11-1 to end the season which is how they managed to get back in the top 25.
As usual, defense was the calling card, something that has been a staple of Virginia basketball under head coach Tony Bennett. For the third consecutive season, his team led the nation in defense and there is no reason for him to change that approach. The problem last season is that Virginia was ranked 351st in the country offensively out of 353 teams. That has to change if the Cavaliers want to compete for the ACC title and win another national championship.
Virginia Has a Lot of New Weapons
Coach Bennett is hoping some of the new faces in town will help with last year’s offensive struggles. In comes Sam Hauser who transferred from Marquette. Last season, Virginia was the third worst shooting team in college basketball. In his last season at Marquette, Hauser averaged 15 points a game on 45% shooting from three which is elite. He should make an immediate impact for the Cavaliers.
Virginia also welcomes one of their best ever recruiting classes and will expect them to contribute right away. That includes Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a top 50 recruit nationally as well as Reece Beekman who was ranked 66th in the country coming out of high school. With all of these new weapons, coach Bennett will be hoping that he has the roster to compete in the ACC and the NCAA Tournament.
Cavaliers Will Make Run at Both ACC & National Title
With an improved offense, we should expect that Virginia will be one of the best teams in the country next season. There’s no reason to believe that there will be a drop off in defense so ideally, the new faces click early so this team can round into form come March. Some of the players from last season were asked to do too much and we should see their production improve as a result of the additions to the roster.
Kikhei Clark is a perfect example of last year’s guys having to play unfamiliar roles. An argument could be made that Clark is the best point guard in the ACC this coming season but last year, he was asked to be the primary offensive option for his team. That is not who he is and some of his numbers would suggest he had a down year. The addition of Reece Beekman must be welcomed news for Clark who had to play a grueling 37 minutes a game last year. With someone to help him share the load, Clark is bound to have a much better season.
High touted freshman Jabri Abdur-Rahim has a chance to get a lot of minutes which is rare for a Virginia freshman. The thing with Abdur-Rahim is that he is considered one of the best two way players coming out of high school and considering he averaged 32 a game as a senior, he has a real chance at cracking Tony Bennett’s starting lineup. Virginia basketball looks to be back in a big way and will be one of the teams to look out for come tournament time.