There is no argument about the top 2 teams in the country when it comes to college basketball; Kentucky is an overwhelming number 1, with Duke solidly at number 2. But who is number 3? Wisconsin? Louisville? Arizona? Maybe even Texas? The answer to all of these questions is no. The clear cut number 3 team in the nation is perhaps the most overlooked of them all: the Virginia Cavaliers.
You probably think I’m crazy and biased because I am a huge fan of the Cavs, but this is being said in the most unbiased way possible. I have asked numerous college basketball fans and done some research, and all of this suggests that the number 3 team in the country comes out of Charlottesville, VA. Tony Bennett has had this program traveling in the right direction for years, and the immense group of talent he has finally appears ready to make a run at the National Championship.
Consider these basic statistics: Virginia is 14th in the country when shooting the basketball (50% from the field). They are also number 1 in the country on the defensive side of the ball, allowing just 46.2 PPG. Another important defensive statistic, rebounds, sees the Hoos gather 29 defensive boards per game, good for 7th in the nation. The stifling defense also boasts the number 2 defensive shooting percentage in the country, behind only Kentucky. Because of Virginia’s slow, deliberate offensive style, it would be impossible for Virginia to average a high amount of points per game, but their total of 69.5 PPG is up from last year’s total. Considering the fact that the Hoos were a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last year, a higher-scoring offense and an improved defense (they were also the number 1 scoring defense in the country last year) is scary to teams both in the ACC and across the country.
Now to focus on the roster. Virginia’s roster will probably go 8 deep when the ACC season begins (Miami on Jan. 3rd). The 8 will be London Perrantes (PG), Malcolm Brogdon (PG-SG), Justin Anderson (SG-SF), Anthony Gill (PF), Mike Tobey (C), Darion Atkins (PF-C), Marial Shayok (SF), and Evan Nolte (SG-SF). The first 5 on the list, the starters, showcase 3 unselfish superstars that fail to get national recognition for their play.
Justin Anderson is arguably the most fun player to watch in the country. His athleticism is first tier when it comes to players across the nation, and he is not scared to show it off when throwing down dunks or getting high in the air to block a shot. Although Anderson’s excitement may be hard to look passed for the average college basketball fan, it is what he does in the half-court offense and defense that really makes him a special player. First off, it is important to note that Anderson is shooting 60% from behind the arc this year. It might actually be physically impossible for him to continue on this pace, but his silky, left-handed shot might see otherwise. He shoots 56% from the field all-together, and 81% from the free-throw line. Anderson’s offensive statistics are up there with the best of them, but where he really shines is on the other side of the ball. His 6’6 frame and long wingspan allow him to ruthlessly defend the best players in the country. In last year’s ACC Championship game, Anderson manned up Jabari Parker for the better part of the game, shutting him down en route to a title for the Cavs. Even more recently, in a 29 point blowout win over Harvard, Anderson held Harvard guard Wesley Saunders to 4 points on 0-7 shooting, 16 points below his season average. Justin Anderson’s value is top notch amongst all the players in the country, and there is absolutely no reason the Junior should not be in the Wooden Award conversation at this point in the season.
Next up is star guard Malcolm Brogdon. The redshirt Junior guard is the leader of this team, and probably has the most freedom on both sides of the ball. Brogdon has the ability to completely take over a game between driving to the hoop and pulling up from 3, but he chooses to play an unselfish brand of basketball that is very easy to the eye. Brogdon averages 13 PPG on 48% shooting from the field, along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He stand at 6’5, a height that allows him to seemingly swallow up smaller guards, while at the same time sticking with bigger small forwards when necessary. His great hand-eye coordination and amazing basketball IQ (he turned down an opportunity to attend Harvard) make up a smart, athletic guard who can break open a game from the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Lastly comes power forward Anthony Gill. Gill transferred from South Carolina, and this is his second year under Tony Bennett. Gill is ideal for Virginia’s system. He takes smart shots, shoots a high percentage in the paint, always crashes the boards hard, and has long arms to block out big men with. He averages 12 points and 7 rebounds per game, along with a 61% field goal percentage and a 72% free throw percentage. The improved free throw shooting of Gill is perhaps one of his most noticeable attributes. After barely breaking 50% from the line last year, Gill changed his form so that he is almost facing sideways, and then shoots the ball. No one is complaining though, because his positive progression from the line and from the field have led to a string prescience for the Cavs down low.
Virginia’s team is also full of strong role players, such as point guard London Perrantes who has a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio, or big man Mike Tobey who’s 7 foot frame allows him to average 7 rebounds per game. Combine the offensive efficiency of the Hoos with their tenacity on defense, and a winning formula is created. A tough ACC schedule is waiting for the Virginia Cavaliers, but I believe this team will go along way both in the regular season and postseason.