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CANTWELL: Way-too-early predictions for men’s basketball next season

Cavaliers will return a talented roster, but face difficult task of rebuilding team

Junior guard Kyle Guy and junior forward Mamadi Diakite will both likely return for Virginia next season as they defend their national title.
Junior guard Kyle Guy and junior forward Mamadi Diakite will both likely return for Virginia next season as they defend their national title.

The Virginia men’s basketball team certainly had its most successful season ever this year, winning the first national championship in program history. The Cavaliers will return a talented roster, but Coach Tony Bennett will have a difficult task on his hands replacing key players who have left for the NBA.

Though this past season just ended Monday night, it’s never too early to make some predictions about the state of Virginia basketball next year.

De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome leave for the draft, but Kyle Guy stays

Sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter is a nailed-on lottery pick. The national championship game against Texas Tech was absolutely the last time he’ll ever put on a Virginia jersey. However, junior guard Ty Jerome’s draft stock has always been murkier. Many mock drafts have Jerome as a late first round pick, and for that reason, I think he will leave for the NBA as well.

Jerome doesn’t have the highest ceiling as an NBA player but has an incredibly high floor. He can slot in immediately as a bench 3-and-D player on a playoff team like the Golden State Warriors or Boston Celtics. Junior guard Kyle Guy doesn’t project as easily as an NBA player, though, so he’ll be back for his senior season.

At a generous 6-foot-2, Guy is undersized for the shooting guard role he’s been playing for the Cavaliers. Guy would need to be a better ball handler to have a successful NBA career, and another season at Virginia can help him prove that to NBA General Managers.

Casey Morsell will get meaningful minutes from Day 1

Incoming freshman shooting guard Casey Morsell will pick up some of the minutes left behind by Jerome. Morsell may not start immediately. However, Virginia is already fairly thin on guard depth, with only Jerome, Guy and Clark in the backcourt rotation in the NCAA Tournament. 

Sophomore guard Marco Anthony saw a reduction in his minutes per game in his second season with the Cavaliers, which left an opening for Clark this year. I could see Morsell taking a similar trajectory, starting the season as a key bench player and eventually working his way into the starting lineup.

Kadin Shedrick will redshirt

Under Bennett, Virginia has utilized the redshirt more than any other top program in the country, and it’s become essentially de rigueur for incoming big men to spend their first season in Charlottesville learning the defense with no game action. Senior center Jack Salt, junior forward Mamadi Diakite, sophomore forward Jay Huff and freshman forward Francesco Badocchi each had a redshirt season.

Incoming freshman center Kadin Shedrick will not be an exception to this rule. According to 247Sports, Shedrick is listed at 6-foot-11, 200 pounds. Even Huff is listed at 232. Shedrick is going to need a season to bulk up before facing ACC competition.

Huff doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the starting five

Though he has become a fan favorite for his ability to shoot threes as a seven-footer, Huff still has yet to become a key part of the Virginia rotation. Huff played 18 minutes total in the NCAA Tournament, only four of which came in the Cavaliers’ last three games. Bennett only used six players total against Purdue and seven against Auburn, and Huff remained on the bench. 

I could see Caffaro making the jump to the starting lineup. Bennett has compared him favorably to Salt, as well as Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes, who Bennett coached at Washington State. Caffaro has more offensive polish than Salt with a more traditional big man skillset than Huff. He could be a major part of next season’s Cavalier team.

Diakite will average double figures

As one of the breakout stars of the NCAA Tournament for Virginia, Diakite has shown marked improvement on both offense and defense, even finishing as Virginia’s leading scorer with 14 points against Oklahoma. Though Diakite has been inconsistent as an option on offense, scoring only two points against Auburn, he will be a key scorer for the Cavaliers next season.

Virginia needs Diakite scoring in the paint to free up space for its guards to shoot three-pointers. Hunter’s ability to score inside and on the perimeter has been critical for Virginia the last two seasons, and while Diakite is a more one-dimensional offensive player than Hunter, the Cavalier offense needs an inside scoring threat, and he’s shown that he can provide that.

The Cavaliers will make it to the second weekend of the tournament

Virginia is going to have a tough time rebuilding without Hunter and Jerome. However, many of the ACC’s other elite teams are facing similar situations. Duke’s trio of freshman stars are likely all NBA-bound, UNC loses Coby White, Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson and Florida State has several seniors who will be graduating, as does Virginia Tech, who is also likely losing Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the NBA and has lost Coach Buzz Williams to Texas A&M.

The Cavaliers have the talent to be near the top of the ACC standings again next year and will likely be in the top 25 throughout the season. Virginia will expect to reach the second weekend of the tournament, and the Cavaliers should have a top-four seed. Anything can happen in March, and another Final Four run certainly isn’t out of the question, but Virginia will have a hard time replicating this season’s success without Hunter, Jerome and Salt.