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Editor’s Note: In part four of a four-part series, Max Skinner previews the upcoming basketball seasons for Louisville, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The 2015-16 ACC Basketball season is finally upon us, and the ACC Digital Network prepares you for the upcoming season with our “College Hoops Tip-Off Preview” series.
In an offseason clouded by allegations that prompted an NCAA investigation, the Louisville basketball team is an unknown commodity. This year is a different Rick Pitino squad, and the Cardinals missed the AP preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2010.
“We lost four double-figure scorers,” Coach Pitino said on his first radio show this season. “Now you come in with a lot of unknowns, even though people within the game of basketball know about Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.”
For those of you who don’t know Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, you better get to know those names real quickly. Damion Lee, a 6-foot-6 wing player, was the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (21.4 ppg) last season at Drexel. Cleveland State-transfer, Trey Lewis, averaged 16.7 points per game and shot a cool 40.3 percent from behind the arc last season.
Both of these transfers bring a veteran presence to an inexperienced Louisville locker room. Not to mention, Lewis and Lee are better shooters than just about anyone on the Cardinals roster. That’s a welcoming sight for Rick Pitinos’ sore eyes, considering Louisville ranked 229th in the nation in effective field goal percentage and 64th in offensive efficiency last season.
Another big question mark heading into this season is can this Louisville team press and play 2-3 matchup zone like recent Rick Pitino squads? Luckily for Cardinals nation, this roster is full of long and athletic players who can fill passing lanes and disrupt opposing offenses.
Keep an eye on incoming freshmen Deng Agel (6-7), Donovan Mitchell (6-3, 210 lbs.) and Louisville-native, Ray Spalding (6-10). All three of these players have impressed Rick Pitino in the offseason and could play an important role in 2015-16.
It goes without saying, but the Cards will go as far as their newcomers take them. It’s also pretty safe to say that there is a wide range of directions that this Louisville team could go in 2015-16. The media at Operatin Basketball picked Louisville to finish seventh in the conference. I don’t see that sitting too well with Coach Pitino.
Head coach, Tony Bennett, has turned Virginia into a regular season powerhouse on the verge of making that next step to winning a national championship.
UVA (30-4, 16-2) is coming off back-to-back ACC regular season championships and Bennett returns a veteran roster. The Cavs have been disappointed by early exits in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and expectations in Charlottesville are Final Four or bust. The fact that the bar is set so high speaks volumes to the success that Tony Bennett (136-64) has produced in his first six seasons at Virginia.
Anchored by that masterful Pack-Line defense, Virginia ushers in an experienced group into the 2015-16 season. Led by veterans, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, the Cavs have a deep roster filled with defensive-minded players. Since stepping foot onto UVa’s campus in 2011, Malcolm Brogdon has quietly improved every single year. Last season, Brogdon averaged 14 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest, en route to All-ACC First Team honors.
It may not show up on the stat sheet, but Malcolm Brogdon is the key cog in Virginia’s well-oiled defensive machine. The senior guard is the ACC’s only returning All-American this season and has scored the second-most career points in the ACC among active players, behind North Carolina’s Marcus Paige.
Virginia certainly has some serious tests early on this year; the Cavaliers face West Virginia on December 8th, No. 11 Villanova on December 19th and No. 14 California on December 22nd before starting up conference play in January. Prevalent home games like these will continue to putt UVa fans in their seats.
Virginia ranked fifth in the ACC and 23rd in the nation in average attendance last season, drawing 13,656 fans per game to John Paul Jones.
Some players to keep an eye on:
• 6-5 So. guard, Marial Shayok, will fill the defensive void left by the departure of Justin Anderson.
• 6-4 So. guard, Darius Thompson, is an intriguing transfer from Tenneesee who could provide a nice spark for the Cavs off the bench.
• 7-0 Sr. center, Mike Tobey, will need to toughen up inside to provide a nice balance for Anthony Gill.
Wahoo nation can only hope that Malcolm Brogdon and his fellow Cavs will lead Virginia to the Promised Land in 2015-16. Virginia was picked to finish second (18 first-place votes) in the ACC preseason poll.
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Since taking over the Virginia Tech program in 2014, head coach Buzz Williams has had very little to get excited about. The Hokies (11-22, 2-16) came in dead last in the ACC during his inaugural season in Blacksburg a year ago. The program also saw eight players leave during the last two off-seasons, all of whom were recruited by former head coach James Johnson.
Last season’s leading scorer (Adam Smith, 13.4 ppg) transferred to ACC-rival school Georgia Tech, while the Hokies leading rebounder (Joey Van Zegeren, 5.3 rpg) transferred to Northwestern. The loss of Zegeren could be significant for a team that had major trouble rebounding a year ago.
Virginia Tech’s rebounding margin in 2014-15 was minus-6.4 per game, which ranked 337th out of 345 Division I teams in that category.
The good news for Hokies’ fans is that Coach Williams is replacing the loss of Zegeren with even more size. 7-foot junior-college transfer, Johnny Hamilton and 6-10 freshman Kerry Blackshear add some bulk down low to a roster that returns 7-foot forward Satchel Pierce.
The other good news is that Virginia Tech will be able to match the loss of Adam Smith with the addition of versatile Seth Allen (13.4 ppg in 2013-14), who transferred over from Maryland. Another player that Hokies’ fans can get excited about is sophomore shooting guard, Justin Bibbs. Bibbs, who averaged 11.4 points as a freshman last year, has solid size (6-5, 220 lbs.) and athleticism relative to his position.
The lack of experience may concern most analysts, but the Hokies are developing a youthful building block for the future of Virginia Tech basketball. Coach Williams continues to recruit at an elite level, and he will inevitably lead Virginia Tech out of the cellar of the ACC.
Virginia Tech was picked to finish 14th in the ACC preseason poll.